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East Baton Rouge sex crime sting draws apology from sheriff

Law enforcement agencies may often use informant and undercover operators in an effort to gather evidence in a criminal investigation. Undercover sting operations are used in a wide variety of contexts, and at just about any level of law enforcement. Police may send an undercover operative to create a drug transaction with an alleged suspect.

Officials in East Baton Rouge Parish arrested a number of men dating back to 2011 after using undercover stings to gather evidence in alleged sex crimes. The issue has garnered national attention—not because of the sting operation—but because the arrests were not authorized under the law in the first place. The government officials were setting up sting operations to charge men with sex crimes under a law that is unconstitutional.

The East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff has made a public apology concerning the whole mess. The arrests began occurring in 2011 from the sting operation. But, the anti-sodomy law that authorities were seeking to enforce (while still on the books in Louisiana) was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court about a decade ago—long before law enforcement set up the stings.

An account in the Advocate says that the issue in East Baton Rouge has created a public debate over the unconstitutional law. While prosecutors reportedly declined to prosecute the sex crimes, the story shows how criminal defense arguments about the constitutionality of a law are not mere technicalities. Our system generally allows the legislature to define crimes—but not without limitation under the Constitution.

Source: The Advocate, “Gautreaux issues apology, begins push to have La. law erased,” Jim Mustian, July 31, 2013

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