United States of America v. Larry Wright

Sworn deputies, restricted to working as corrections officers in prisons, may not have the same legal protections as deputies providing day to day "normal" law enforcement services.

Larry Wright was employed by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office (EBRSO) in the capacity of a jailer at the Parrish Prison.  The position called for Wright to be a sworn deputy sheriff.  However, he had no law enforcement powers outside the walls of the facilty in which he was assigned.  He had no authority to investigate any crime outside of the prison nor to make arrests.  His job was to control prisoners and security of the prison.

In 2006 while employed with EBRSO, Wright met Chris Cordasco who asked if Wright could have firearms charges dismissed.  Unknown to Wright, Cordasco had been arrested in 2005 for a firearms charge.  Wright told Cordasco that he could get the charge dropped for $ 5000.00.  Cordasco was an informant for the ATF. Cordasco contacted his handler and the sting was on.

Wright and Cordasco worked out a deal in which Wright would be paid $2500 and a quarter kilo of cocaine.  Wright was to make sure the charges were dropped.  During  this time Wright spoke with Detective Eric Jones about the deal including the cash and cocaine.   Jones told him not to pursue the information until it could be verified and then he would look at it.

Wright went ahead with the meeting and cash and was in the process of receiving the cocaine from Cordasco in a parking lot.   As in all sting operations Cordasco was wired as was his car. As Wright received the cocaine ATF came in and arrested Wright. They found Wright’s duty weapon on him and the $2500 he received from Cordasco.

Wright was charged with knowingly and intentionally attempting to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine,  possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

At trial Wright attempted to use the public authority defense which stated “is available when the defendant is engaged by a government official to participate or assist in covert activity,” United States v.

Spires, 79 F.3d 464, 466 n.2 (5th Cir. 1996) . Wright intended to call Sheriff Elmer Litchfield to bolster his claim.  The attorney general filed a motion to stop the testimony and the court agreed.  There was no relevancy that if Wright was authorized to conduct the investigation as it was clear he was not.

Wright requested that the jury receive instruction based on 21 U.S.C. 885(d) granting immunity if  he was “duly authorized”  official  “Lawfully engaged” in the enforcement of a matter of law.  The charge was as follows:

No criminal liability shall be imposed upon any duly authorized officer of any political subdivision of a State, who shall be lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law or municipal ordinance relating to controlled substances.

In each parish in Louisiana an elected sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the parish. The sheriff grants commissions to deputies which make them a duly authorized officer of the sheriff

And charges them with the duty of preserving the peace and apprehending public offenders 

Some of the duties of a law enforcement officer include making arrests and detecting crime for the enforcement of the laws of the State of Louisiana.

The district rejected Wright’s proposed instruction and charged the jury as follows:

Now, the defendant in this case claims that if he committed the acts charged in the indictment, he did so during the course and scope of his employment as a law enforcement officer, and pursuant to

Lawful authority. You must consider whether the defendant should be found not guilty because he was authorized by a qualified official of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office to participate, or to assist in the activity charged in the indictment. 

As a matter of law, I instruct you that every holder of a law enforcement commission is not necessarily authorized by virtue of that commission, to commit illegal acts in connection with investigations of criminal activity. 

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