In 2014, the University of Chicago’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic led an effort to have charges against 43 defendants dismissed on grounds that the cases were racially biased. In a landmark hearing in December 2017, nine federal judges overseeing the cases heard testimony from dueling experts on policing who came to dramatically different conclusions.
The U.S. attorney’s office denied that the stings disproportionately affected minorities, arguing that targets were selected by their propensity for violence, not race. For instance, while out on bond, two men facing stash house-related indictments were charged in separate shootings, including the wounding of a Chicago police officer.
But many judges overseeing the cases had clear concerns that the ends did not justify the means. In a decision that wasn’t binding but served as a guide for other judges, then-U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said the stings shared an ugly racial component and should “be relegated to the dark corridors of our past.”
While Castillo stopped short of dismissing the case before him, his 2018 ruling had a ripple effect. At the urging of Castillo and other judges, the U.S. attorney’s office began offering plea deals and dropping counts that involved stiff mandatory minimum sentences.
The results were startling. While many of the 43 defendants faced mandatory sentences of 15 to 35 years in prison if convicted, 32 instead were released with sentences of time served after pleading guilty to lesser charges. Most of the others received prison terms that were significantly below federal sentencing guidelines.
While the cases hadn’t been thrown out of court, Alison Siegler, the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic’s founder, noted in an April report to the 7th Circuit Bar Association that "the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the ATF have entirely stopped bringing stash house cases in Chicago, even as those cases continue to be prosecuted elsewhere in the country.”
Read more at Chicago Tribune