Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Broad Police Powers in Conspiracy Cases Contested ; the Supreme Court Hears a Narcotics Case That May Hinder the War on Terrorism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Broad Police Powers in Conspiracy Cases Contested ; the Supreme Court Hears a Narcotics Case That May Hinder the War on Terrorism

Article excerpt

An Idaho drug-conspiracy case may greatly complicate the war on terrorism if the US Supreme Court affirms a federal appeals court ruling.

At issue in a case to be heard Tuesday is whether conspiracy law applies when federal authorities intercept a drug shipment but then let it go forward in a sting operation.

Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials say the same undercover tactics are necessary to arrest and prosecute international terrorists before they are able to actually carry out their plans. They say that the decision in the drug-trafficking case will have an impact on terror cases as well.

At issue is a September 2000 federal appeals court that reversed the convictions of Francisco Jimenez Recio and Adrian Lopez-Meza. Both men arrived at an Idaho shopping mall to drive away a truck carrying $10 million worth of cocaine and marijuana.

The two went to the mall after the truck's driver - who had earlier been arrested and agreed to cooperate with federal agents - followed his initial instructions and gave a person unknown to him the truck's location.

The voice on the other end of the phone line said that he would "call a muchacho to come and get the truck." Three hours later Mr. Recio and Mr. Lopez-Meza showed up. They were arrested and later convicted in a drug-trafficking conspiracy.

But the convictions were overturned because the appeals court found that the drug trafficking conspiracy had effectively ended a day earlier when federal agents arrested the first driver and took temporary possession of the truck.

The court ruled that there was not sufficient proof that Recio and Lopez-Meza were anything other than last-minute, low-level recruits in the drug trafficking operation. What the Supreme Court must decide is whether the appeals court properly applied conspiracy law to the case.

The appeals court reasoned that the government's intervention made it impossible for the drug trafficking conspiracy to be successfully carried out, thus ending the conspiracy. …

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