Buting ,Williams & Stilling ,S.C. | A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Call Today for a FREE Consultation


Have ATF drug stash-house stings been racially biased?

by | Dec 22, 2017 | Criminal Appeals

In a highly unusual move, a nine-judge panel of district judges from around the 7th Circuit is hearing arguments on whether certain drug sting operations run since the 90s by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were racially discriminatory.

If the stings are found to have unfairly targeted minorities — intentionally or unintentionally — they could be found unconstitutional. Such a finding could set 43 defendants free and could change the way federal law enforcement is allowed to operate within the 7th Circuit and perhaps nationwide.

According to the Associated Press, the case involves “phony drug stash-house” stings. In these operations, ATF agents pose as couriers for drug cartels and try to talk some suspects into robbing a supposed stash house for drugs. The stash houses are actually fictitious. Other suspects are invited to distribute the fictitious drugs.

One problem with the stings, according to defense attorneys, is that agents have the power to arbitrarily up the severity of any criminal charges. This is because, under federal law, the severity of drug charges depends in part on the quantity of drugs involved. In order to increase the severity of the charges, all the agents have to do is increase the quantity of imaginary drugs involved.

The main question in this unusual hearing, however, is whether African-Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately targeted by the stings.

Defense experts presented statistical data that certainly appears to indicate they were. For example, of 94 people arrested in these stings in Chicago between 2006 and 2013, 74 were African-American, 12 were Hispanic and only eight were white. This was the case even though people of all races admit to using drugs at about the same rates.

The government’s argument is that it is entirely appropriate for federal agencies to focus their stings in areas where drug trafficking activity is thought to be highest. The agencies assume that, in Chicago, drug trafficking mostly takes place in the low-income areas on the city’s south and west sides.

An expert witness for the government testified that the defense analysis was wrong to assume that people in other areas — white areas — were equally likely to participate in drug distribution or in robbing a stash house. He also argued that the 43 defendants caught up in the stings had prior violent crime convictions and were therefore fair game regardless of race.

Is it fair for the government to assume that drug trafficking is mostly taking place in low-income minority areas when drug use is occurring in all areas? Is it reasonable to assume that white people would not agree to participate in these fictitious crimes if they were targeted by law enforcement?  Experience has shown police to be very effective at extracting even false confessions from innocent people of all races and economic status.  The recent Netflix documentary “The Confession Tapes” illustrates several examples of this.  It seems just as likely that law enforcement could persuade some white drug users to engage in these fictitious schemes if they were similarly targeted.

Practice Areas

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)