By Julie Mumma
If you are poor and conspire to rob a fake stash house, go directly to jail. If you are Goldman Sachs and conspire to rob millions of real dollars from real people, then enjoy a perpetual get-out-of-jail-free card. The criminal-justice system is rigged.
The U.S. Department of Justice dreamed up Operation Gideon IV to entrap people with the false promise of money to commit crime. Last month, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. sentenced Rathanak Van to more than 11 years in prison, after doling out 71 months to Snangehk Peou, for conspiring to rob a fictional, nonexistent stash house.
“There is absolutely no need for the federal government to manufacture crime,” argued Mark Reichel, the defense counsel in United States v. Keopadubsy, a pending stash-house indictment in Sacramento federal court.
But our Ninth Circuit, in what’s become known as “the Black cases,” had no problem upholding convictions for fictional crimes concocted by the government to ensnare impoverished minorities. The dissenting justices vehemently disagreed.
“The Black cases arise from a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who was joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.
In two other recent stash-house cases in Los Angeles federal court, two courageous judges, Manuel L. Real and Otis D. Wright II, dismissed the indictments outright. In his order, Judge Real called out the United States Attorney’s Office with his observation “that the government targets minorities in poor neighborhoods with huge payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, then seeks life sentences to those that fall into its web.” He called such tactics “so outrageous as to offend the basic sense of justice.”
So the poor are prosecuted for manufactured crime. The rich roam free. And weed gets a federal mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. These are the rules of monopoly justice.
Wait. It gets worse. On August 18, federal prosecutors will argue the ludicrous proposition that marijuana is a Schedule I narcotic with no medicinal value in United States v. Schweder before Judge Kimberly J. Mueller at the Sacramento federal courthouse.
Let’s hope for a little justice from our Sacramento federal judiciary in the next roll of the dice.
Julie Mumma is a criminal-defense attorney and Sacramento State University adjunct professor. Follow her @sunshinetruthx.