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Drug police may be clever, but not at expense of the innocent

The war on drugs has been going on for decades. In that time, the government has taken its job very seriously. Sometimes police at state and federal levels push what many would argue are the bounds of enforcement to a point where they raise questions about whether rights have been infringed.

We suggested that a measure of such enthusiasm might have been a factor that worked in favor of a drug charge defendant in a case out of Ramsey County. As we noted in that item, the defendant had been caught up in a drug deal set up by a government informant.

The transaction originally involved the sale of some marijuana, a low level felony for which conviction of the defendant would warrant probation. But, guided by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, police turned the buy into one involving cocaine. Now it was felony that could warrant a 2-year term in prison. However, working diligently with legal counsel, this mother of four was able to avoid that fate.

More recently, another instance of apparent DEA envelope pushing made news. As a result of the events, the federal government wound up agreeing to pay a young upstate New York woman $134,000. What happened is that an agent created a fake Facebook page as part of his investigation efforts using photos of her that he'd taken from her cellphone.

The agent reportedly had seized the phone when the woman was arrested on a drug-related charge in 2010. She pleaded guilty to that charge and has since met all the terms of her sentence. When the fake Facebook page appeared, she sued.

In its initial response to the suit, the Justice Department defended the agent saying that the woman had implicitly consented to his action because the material was on her phone when she was arrested -- a claim she rejected.

It's heartening to know that the government stepped back from that position and decided to settle this case. But it's noteworthy that in doing so, it didn't admit doing anything wrong. Nor does the deal prohibit such actions in the future.

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