The drug stash house sting has been a bread-and-butter part of the federal law enforcement playbook for years.
By dangling the promise of a big score, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives convinced hundreds of would-be robbers across the country that they were stealing large quantities of narcotics, only to find out the drugs were a figment of the government’s imagination.
But the strategy also has been controversial, sweeping up mostly African-American targets — some with only minor criminal backgrounds — and sparking allegations across the country of entrapment and racial profiling. With the way mandatory federal sentencing laws work, the stings have landed many defendants behind bars for decades or even life, even though the drugs never existed.
Now the legal battle is coming to a head in an unprecedented hearing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago before a panel of nine district judges overseeing a dozen separate cases involving more than 40 defendants.
The hearing, which has been four years in the making, will take place over two days in the courthouse’s large ceremonial courtroom. As many as 30 defendants, their relatives and individual attorneys are expected to attend, and an overflow courtroom has been set up to handle the anticipated crowd.
“In my 46 years of practicing law, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” attorney Richard Kling, who represents one of the defendants, told the Chicago Tribune this week.
The testimony will focus on dueling experts who reached starkly different conclusions about the racial breakdown of targets in the stash house cases.
A nationally renowned expert hired by the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School — which is spearheading the effort to have the cases dismissed — concluded that disparity between minority and white defendants in the stings was so large that there was "a zero percent likelihood" it happened by chance.
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