Courts & Crime

Hmong Americans in Laos overthrow plot want charges dismissed

An undercover firearms agent played unconstitutional mind games with Hmong Americans charged with plotting to overthrow the government of Laos, defense lawyers claim in Sacramento federal court papers.

They want a judge to dismiss the case against their clients "for outrageous government conduct," and they point to the prosecutors' own evidence as proof of constitutionally unacceptable mental coercion.

That evidence, they state in the motion to dismiss, shows the agent exploited the defendants' outrage and frustration at the Lao government's reported policy of genocide against the Hmong.

The agent's assurances that the U.S. government would back a military offensive against Laos also represented coercion banned by the Constitution, the motion states.

Eleven Hmong Americans and a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Woodland are accused in a multicount grand jury indictment of violating an array of federal laws, including the Neutrality Act, which forbids a military offensive from American soil against a nation at peace with the United States.

The charges grew out of a sting operation between January and June of 2007 that featured an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posing as a weapons merchant hawking his wares to the defendants.

Defense lawyers, led by renowned San Francisco attorney James Brosnahan, renewed their outrageous conduct motion last week. They brought a similar motion more than a year ago, but U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. declined to rule on it because all the government's evidence had not been turned over to the defense.

Now, the defense lawyers are asking for an evidentiary hearing on the motion, which is one in a series they have filed this month. Prosecutors will respond in writing, and Damrell is expected to hear oral arguments in the fall.

After Laos and South Vietnam fell to the communists, an estimated 250,000 Hmong came to the United States, including some who fought in a "secret war" under the CIA's direction against the communists. Many relatives and friends were among the Hmong left behind.

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