Tuesday, December 23, 2003
‘Sentence Entrapment’ No Defense in California, High Court Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The defenses of “sentence entrapment” and “sentence manipulation” recognized by some federal courts do not apply in California, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
Overturning a ruling by Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal, the justices reinstated 25-year sentence enhancements added to the terms of three Los Angeles Superior Court defendants convicted on drug charges.
The Court of Appeal held that Los Angeles Police Department officers engaged in “outrageous” conduct when they supplied more than 80 kilograms of cocaine to a trio of defendants in order to stack a 25-year enhancement on top of their sentences.
But Justice Janice Rogers Brown, writing for the high court, said there was nothing outrageous or even exceptional about what the officers did.
Edaleene Smith, Waymond Thomas, and Obed Gonzalez were convicted of attempting to transport cocaine, among other offenses.
Police witnesses testified that a reliable informant had fingered Smith as the perpetrator of a series of drug sales and home invasion robberies. As a result of that information, according to the testimony, an undercover officer pretending to work for a major drug dealer asked Smith if she would be willing to steal a shipment of cocaine from the officer’s “boss.”
When Smith expressed interest, police set up a sting operation, obtaining a court order releasing 85 kilograms of cocaine from a supply scheduled to be destroyed. The cocaine was placed in a van, which was parked in the garage of a vacant house with the key in the ignition.
The officers then set up the house to look like a place of drug-dealing activity and notified Smith as to where the “rip off” was to take place. Smith showed up with the other defendants, all three of whom were arrested after Thomas backed the van out of the garage.
All three defendants were convicted of robbery, attempting to transport a controlled substance, and grand theft; Smith and Thomas were also convicted of conspiracy. Smith was sentenced to 36 years in prison; Thomas to 47 years, eight months; and Gonzalez to 33 years.
The sentences in each case included the 25-year enhancement prescribed by Health and Safety Code Sec. 11370.4.
The statute allows the sentencing judge the discretion to strike the enhancement if there are mitigating circumstances. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green, while acknowledging the harshness of the sentences, noted that the defendants could have backed out, but instead were enticed by the opportunity to steal more than $1 million worth of cocaine.
The Court of Appeal said the police engaged in “sentence manipulation”—deliberate pre-arrest conduct designed solely to increase the potential sentences—and shaved 10 years off the defendants’ prison terms.
Brown, however, said the only thing the police did was enable the defendants to commit a crime they obviously wanted to complete. Since California’s objective entrapment defense, which focuses on the existence of lack of existence of police misconduct, did not apply, there was no basis for the Court of Appeal to grant the relief it did, she said.
The case is People v. Smith, 03 S.O.S. 6538.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company