Previously, we commented on the importance of criminal defendants working with an experienced attorney to carefully scrutinize the actions of law enforcement officers and agents to protect their constitutional rights and to build a strong criminal defense case. The way in which law enforcement carries out its duties can and does come into play in criminal defense work, and criminal defendants deserve to know how to take advantage of the protections built into the process.
One of the tactics commonly used in law enforcement is sting operations, which come in different forms, including setting up fake businesses to catch criminals in the act. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has, in the past, heavily used this strategy in the form of undercover storefront operations. As a recent article noted, though, the use of fake storefront operations in law enforcement has been, and continues to be, problematic.
The ATF inspector general noted in a lengthy report issued earlier this month that undercover storefront operations has major avoidable problems. These have included changing the setup of sting operations without permission from ATF headquarters, as happened with an operation here in Milwaukee in 2011. The report also noted violations of federal disability law in some cases, with storefronts targeting individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating how the ATF might come into compliance with the law.
Undercover storefront operations, according to the report, also present potential legal problems with entrapment as they can encourage individuals to commit crime. In addition, the report noted that undercover storefront operations are costly and not particularly effective at targeting high-level criminals.
For a criminal defendant, the most important thing is to ensure that he or she takes full advantage of the protections built into the criminal process and holds the government to its full burden of proof. Working with an experienced advocate is critical to building the strongest possible case, particularly when prosecutors attempt to benefit from the illegal activities of law enforcement.