As we recently discussed, it’s becoming readily apparent that the FBI’s most vaunted counter-terrorism wins are almost all stings for “crimes” they made up all by themselves and then coerced others to join.
Even for those that don’t have a problem with this kind of practice in theory, it has to be jarring to learn just how many of these “terrorists” are either suffering serious mental or social illnesses or have had their confessions beaten out of them. By all appearances, it looks pretty clear that the FBI is bumping up their “win” statistics on the backs of these highly questionable stings.
So of course local law enforcement is getting in on the action as well. Take the police in Washington D.C., for instance, who are featured in a Washington Post story detailing how they invent armed robbery plans whole-cloth and then recruit civilians to join up shortly before arresting these future-criminals. Some of the plots the police of devised are quite detailed and terrifying, involving robbing liquor stores and targets that are supposedly drug dealers. After discussing the plans with an undercover cop, everyone is then arrested and charged with a variety of “conspiracy to commit” charges. According to some experts, the government is on firm legal ground with regards to entrapment.
The government is on solid legal ground, experts say, when it comes to fending off allegations that suspects were set up — or entrapped — by the police. Even if the government entices the defendant, the target has to show that he was not predisposed to commit the crime.
Sure, and if you’re a defendant in one of these cases, good luck convincing anyone that you didn’t have a predisposition for the crime you were tricked into thinking you were going to commit. Again, it’s easy to opine that these are bad people, but that doesn’t take into account mental illness and pressure applied by undercover officers eager to bolster their arrest statistics. According to reports, that kind of pressure included giving minors alcohol and/or taking them to strip clubs, because nobody has ever made themselves out to be something they’re not when drunk or in the presence of naked members of the opposite sex. The question becomes whether anything like the made up crime would have ever happened had it not been first invented by the police.
“When you have the government offering guns or the getaway car and making it really attractive, you have to ask: Is this an opportunity that would have really come around in real life? Would this person have been able to put together this type of crime without government assistance?” said Katharine Tinto, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has studied undercover policing tactics.
It’s even worse when the police engineer aspects of the made up crimes in the sting in order to manufacture longer sentences for the would-be criminals they ensnare.
Tinto and others also take issue with the government’s ability to essentially engineer tough penalties by controlling the details of the made-up crime. Part of the reason the District cases have been so successful, according to defense lawyers, is that the potential jail time for the federal conspiracy charge is steep enough that many defendants are more inclined to make a deal with prosecutors than risk losing at trial.
The global problem in all of this is the aim: this is all about bolstering crime-fighting statistics rather than responding to any actual crimes or criminals. Will the police likely get some violent criminals off the streets with this tactic? Sure, but so could actual police work and, as I indicated, that isn’t what this is all about. On top of that, the questions raised by the tactic are serious and some of the people caught up in all this probably aren’t benefited most by engineered jail time. Add to all that questions about who the police are generally going to look towards as targets of this kind of sting operation (gasp, minorities), and we should be left wondering why they aren’t fighting the crime that exists rather than making up crime that otherwise wouldn’t.