I have always been confused about what constitutes entrapment. Can you please talk about entrapment and how law enforcement structures their undercover sting operations to ensure entrapment is avoided? – Howard
Good question Howard,
I remember a fraud case I was investigating where a suspect was using a stolen ID to order a large amount of car parts. He’d have packages delivered to vacant houses and pick them up from the porch shortly after delivery. It was discovered one day when a package was delivered to an occupied home and the resident called the police regarding a suspicious package left on the porch that they didn’t order. I did a records check on the name on the package and found that he was the victim of identity theft recently. I contacted the victim who confirmed that he has been been getting unauthorized charges made on his credit card recently and that he did not order the auto parts which were left on the porch. I took the package as evidence and called the auto parts store who gave me the phone number used for the order. I then asked a friend of mine at a local mail / package center if I could run a "sting" at his business.
I called the phone number that was used to make the fraudulent order which was the suspect’s number. The suspect had used the victims name to order the parts so pretending to be a mail store employee, I asked for Mr. so and so (the victim’s name) and told the suspect that I had a large box of auto parts which required a signature and that if he wanted them, he’d have to pick them up at the store. I told the suspect that the package had been misplaced for awhile and that it was going to be returned to the auto parts store the following day if it wasn’t picked up. Claiming to be the victim, the suspect asked if his girlfriend could pick up the package and I stated no, the person who ordered the parts had to sign for them. The suspect stated he would come to the store to pick up the parts the following morning.
Another detective and myself waited in the back room of the mail store until the suspect came in asking for the package. We had told employees in advance to have the suspect sign for the package and bring us the receipt and then we’d bring out the package. The employee brought me the signed receipt where the suspect forged the victims name and we carried two empty boxes out to the counter. I asked the suspect if he was Mr. so and so (the victims name) and he replied yes. Me and my partner dropped the boxes and grabbed the suspect taking him into custody. A search of his truck later turned up a lot of stolen property obtained by similar fraudulent means and several more victims names.
In this case, the suspect initiated the illegal act by stealing an ID, ordering the auto parts, and he came in voluntarily to claim the package by forging the victims signature. I simply presented the "opportunity" for the suspect to commit the illegal act.
People have different perceptions of entrapment. Cops have a pretty wide range of things they can do to catch crooks and I’ve seen some pretty creative undercover stings. Although every situation is different, there are certain guidelines that cops have to follow. The most common and probably contested situations of alleged entrapment is prostitution and drug cases. Cops have the right to present the opportunity of someone to commit an illegal act (such as an undercover officer posing as a prostitute, drug dealer, drug buyer, etc), but they cant induce or persuade a person to do so or it could be entrapment. Here’s a description from the Wikipedia encyclopedia:
From Wikipedia, Entrapment is constituted by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit. In many jurisdictions, entrapment is a possible defense against criminal liability. However, there is no entrapment where a person is ready and willing to break the law and the Government agents merely provide what appears to be a favorable opportunity for the person to commit the crime. For example, it is not entrapment for a Government agent to pretend to be someone else and to offer, either directly or through an informer or other decoy, to engage in an unlawful transaction with the person. So, a person would not be a victim of entrapment if the person was ready, willing and able to commit the crime charged in the indictment whenever opportunity was afforded, and that Government officers or their agents did no more than offer an opportunity.
On the other hand, if the evidence leaves a reasonable doubt whether the person had any intent to commit the crime except for inducement or persuasion on the part of some Government officer or agent, then the person is not guilty.
In slightly different words: Even though someone may have sold drugs, as charged by the government, if it was the result of entrapment then he is not guilty. Government agents entrapped him if three conditions are fulfilled:
- The idea for committing the crime came from the government agents and not from the person accused of the crime.
- Government agents then persuaded or talked the person into committing the crime. Simply giving him the opportunity to commit the crime is not the same as persuading him to commit the crime.
- The person was not ready and willing to commit the crime before the government agents spoke with him.
On the issue of entrapment, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not entrapped by government agents.
There are many legal challenges and case law regarding entrapment that can be found on the internet.