U.S. District Judge Charles R. Rickey yesterday took the unusual step of expunging a drug suspect's arrest record because he said the government committed "extreme violations of the defendant's rights" by destroying crucial evidence in the case.
Richey ruled that all evidence and records in the case of Roberto Benlizar should be turned over to his attorney.
"The court is shocked and greatly displeased by the institutionalized and systematic refusal (of the Drug Enforcement Administration) and its agents to respect (Benlizar's) constitutional and statutory rights," Richey said in a 22-page opinion in which he sharply attacked DEA's actions in the case.
Court sources said the expunging of an arrest record when it appeared that there was at least a reasonable cause for the suspects's arrest is rare. But Richey said in his opinion there were highly unusual circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Benlizar that justified the erasure.
Benlizar admitted selling a small amount of heroin to a DEA agent, two years ago at Nathan's restaurant in Georgetown, but as it turned out, the drug was supplied to Benlizar by a paid informer for DEA.
Richey said that "the informer was present throughout the entire transaction and provided the only government testimony at trial contradicting the defendant's defense (that he was entrapped by the government). The only interview notes taken by the DEA agent who interviewed the informant concerning the envents of the day of the sale were intentionally destroyed by the agent of the DEA."
Benlizar was convicted by a jury of the heroin sale, but the conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which directed Richey to impose "appropriate sanctions" to rectify any injustice against Benlizar.
Richey said the "massive and serious violations of the law by the DEA and its agents hindered the defendant's ability to affirmatively demonstrate that [TEXT OMITTED].