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U.S. v. HARE, Nos. 14-4758, 14-4770, & 14-4832

Decided: April 19, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.

A jury convicted defendants the defendants of drug, robbery, and firearm offenses based on their participation in a plan to rob a cocaine “stash house.” Unbeknownst to the defendants, the stash house did not exist; rather, it was fabricated by undercover federal agents as part of a sting operation. Appellants challenge the district court’s denial of their motion for discovery into potential race discrimination by law enforcement and motion to dismiss the indictment on due process grounds, among other claims.

The Appellants’ first contended that the district court erred in denying their motion for discovery into whether ATF targeted the Appellants because they were black, i.e. the ATF engaged in selective enforcement. In support of this motion, Appellants pointed to statistics that showed that in the five stash house stings in their geographic area conducted by ATF agents within the past three years, all of the defendants in those cases (a total of 32) were black. Appellants also pointed to a “known white crew” in the area involved in robberies and drug distributions that were not targeted by ATF. Appellants argued that this evidence entitled them to discovery into their selective enforcement claim. In order to obtain discovery in support of a selective enforcement, the Fourth Circuit affirmed that defendants must produce “some evidence making a credible showing of both discriminatory effect and discriminatory intent.”

On the appellants’ claim of discriminatory selective enforcement, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding and held that the Appellants’ statistical evidence did not meet the necessary standard because “absent an appropriate basis for comparison, statistical evidence [of racial disparity] alone cannot establish any element of a discrimination claim.” In other words, while the statistics relied upon by the Appellants was alarming on its face, they failed to provide any evidence that similarly situated individuals of other races were committing similar crimes in comparable frequencies. Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that even if it were to assume that Appellants’ statistical evidence did have a basis for comparison that showed discriminatory effect, it would not necessarily prove discriminatory intent.”

In addition, Appellants contended that the district court erred in their respective firearm charges by applying the incorrect standard. However, despite their attempts, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of the law as it pertained to the Appellants’ firearm charges. The Fourth Circuit found not only the district court’s application correct, but also its reasoning.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the Appellants’ convictions on all counts.

Full Opinion

Brandon Gregg