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Court Makes Strong Statement About Racial Bias/Crack Cocaine Cases


March 1995

Ruling Mar. 2 on a technical point in selective prosecution in crack cocaine cases, a majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit en banc made a strong statement about the importance of bringing such cases before the courts (U.S. v. Armstrong, No. 93-50031, No. 93-50057, 1995 WL 82876, (9th Cir. 1995)).

Five defendants, Christopher Armstrong, Aaron Hampton, Freddie Mack, Shelton Martin, and Robert Rozelle were charged in federal court with crimes carrying long mandatory minimum sentences -- conspiracy to distribute crack and various other drug and firearms charges -- as a result of a joint Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms/local law enforcement investigation.

The government had refused to comply with a discovery order requiring certain information relevant to determining if there was racially discriminatory selective prosecution to be turned over to the defendants. The court responded by throwing out the indictments against the defendants:

There are few claims as serious as the charge put forth by the defendants here -- that the government has selected them for prosecution because of their race. Such claims deserve the most careful examination by the courts so that the prosecutorial power does not become a license to discriminate based on race. Discovery is the crucial means by which defendants may provide a trial judge with the information needed in order to determine whether a claim of selective prosecution is meritorious.

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