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Federal agents accused of racial bias in drug stings

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which includes Wisconsin, might have to consider the question of racial bias in federal drug crime investigations. The convictions of 43 people could potentially be overturned if a judicial panel decides that agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives targeted people on the basis of race.

Some legal precedents have established that overtly racist behavior on the part of law enforcement, such as the use of racial slurs, does not have to be evident to prove racial prejudice. Statistical evidence that indicates policies impact certain racial groups disproportionately could support claims of racial bias. Information presented concerning nearly 100 defendants from one urban area showed that only eight were white. The vast majority, 74 people, were black, and the remaining 12 were Hispanic.

The nature of the alleged crimes has also been called into question because federal agents presenting themselves as drug couriers convinced the defendants to steal drugs from fake stash houses. No drugs actually existed at any point in the sting operations, but agents could base the severity of criminal charges on their arbitrary choices about the quantities of fictitious drugs.

The eventual decision of the panel of judges could influence future drug sting operations. Until then, people who are facing drug charges might want to learn about their rights from an attorney before entering a plea in court. A case evaluation by an attorney could help them understand charges and make an informed choice between a plea bargain or going to trial. If law enforcement authorities took unconstitutional actions when seizing the evidence, the charges could under some situations be dropped.

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