By Anne Gearan, Associated Press Write
WASHINGTON AP - The Supreme Court handed federal prosecutors a
victory Tuesday, reversing a ruling in favor of convicted drug
smugglers in a case that government lawyers argued had implications
for the prosecution of terrorism cases.
The case revolved around prosecutors' use of conspiracy charges for
planned crimes that have already been discovered and prevented by law
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said that having discovered
and stopped a crime in the making, law enforcement officers cannot
use informants to lure others into getting involved and then charge
them with being part of the conspiracy. The appeals court had applied
the same reasoning in a line of cases going back five years.
Rejecting that view, the high court ruled that the conspirators still
present a danger to the public even though one crime may have been
The would-be conspirators may go on to commit other crimes, and
police are not bound to let part of a conspiracy ring go free simply
because police turned the planned crime into a sting operation, the
"When police have frustrated a conspiracy's specific objective but
conspirators, unaware of that fact, have neither abandoned the
conspiracy nor withdrawn, these special conspiracy-related dangers
remain," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.
The Bush administration's appeal to the Supreme Court played up the
notion that the 9th Circuit's conspiracy rule could hinder law
enforcement as it tries to head off potential terrorist plots.
"The vital need for undercover government efforts both to apprehend
conspirators and to prevent their planned offenses from actually
occurring extends far beyond drug cases. Similar legitimate law
enforcement tactics are crucial in violent crime, terrorism and other
contexts," Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued in legal papers.
The case stemmed from a sting operation in which police stopped a
truck near Las Vegas in 1997 and discovered about $12 million worth
of cocaine and marijuana. With cooperation from the driver, police
then let the truck continue to a planned rendezvous at an Idaho
Police then arrested the two men who came to meet the truck and
charged them with conspiracy to sell drugs.
The 9th Circuit said Francisco Jimenez Recio and Adrian Lopez-Meza
would likely not have been involved in the conspiracy had they not
been lured into it.
Eight Supreme Court justices rejected that view, and the ninth,
Justice John Paul Stevens agreed with his colleagues - in theory, at
least. Stevens did not sign onto the entire ruling, however, because
he said government prosecutors were lax in failing to challenge the
9th Circuit rule long ago.
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"The prosecutor, like the defendant, should be required to turn
square corners," Stevens wrote.