When Sting Operations Cross the Line – How Close is it to Entrapment?

Most people’s knowledge of sting operations and honey traps stems from the popularity of television shows like “To Catch a Predator” and YouTube pranks. However, operations such as these are carried out by law enforcement agencies across the globe to aid in the fight against various drug, sex and terrorism-related crimes. The issue is that these law enforcement agencies walk a very fine line between legal actions and entrapment when they employ these methods.

In this article, we will look at how close the police skirt with the line, and whether stricter regulation should be introduced to ensure that law enforcement agencies stay on the right side of the laws they are meant to uphold.

First of all, what is Entrapment?

Entrapment is a defence to criminal charges, and it’s based on whether or not a government official – including law enforcement – caused the crime to be committed. It is also based on the principle that the defendant would not have predisposed to committing said crime without the inducement. If we take the example of the many sexual predators that were exposed on shows like “To Catch a Predator”, entrapment would be if the decoys contacted the defendants and persuaded them to make illegal sexual advances.

For instance:

In case 1, a decoy simply tells the target that they are alone at home and the target suggests meeting up for sex or suggests illegal online sexual activity. This is a successful sting since there was no coercion on the decoy’s part.

In case 2, the decoy sends unsolicited nudes and fishes for compliments or tries to get the target to make lewd comments and other sexual advances. This can be considered entrapment since the decoy was the one to initiate the ‘crime’.

Entrapment vs. Opportunity

One of the most important things to remember about entrapment is that it can only be carried out by law enforcement officers. An entrapment defence does not arise if private individuals convince defendants to commit crimes. Also, simply providing an opportunity to commit a crime is not a sufficient basis to make a claim for entrapment. Judges expect people to resist any ordinary temptation to violate the law. So, in essence, a government agent will need to resort to pretty extreme behaviour such as threats, harassment or fraud, for an entrapment defence to have even the slightest chance of being successful.

Furthermore, entrapment can be assessed in one of two ways: by subjective or objective standards. Within the USA, individual states will employ either an objective or a subjective standard to determine whether entrapment occurred.

Objective standard (For example, California)

Under an objective standard, when defendants offer entrapment evidence jurors decide whether a police officer’s actions would have induced a normally law-abiding person to commit a crime. The defendant has the burden of proving entrapment by presenting valid evidence to the fact, such as recordings or written communication proving that the law enforcement agent did, in fact, use threatening or cajoling behaviour to get the defendant to commit a crime they otherwise would not have done.

Subjective standard (for example, Florida)

Entrapment defences are less likely to succeed under a subjective standard. The reason is that under a subjective standard, when a defendant offers entrapment evidence, jurors decide whether the defendant’s predisposition to commit the crime makes the defendant responsible for his or her actions, regardless of any government agent’s inducements. Defendants need to offer evidence that they were not predisposed to commit the crime. If a defendant offers evidence of lack of predisposition, the burden of proof shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime.

So, what do you think? Do law enforcement officers cross the line into entrapment when carrying out sting operations? Do you feel that there need to be stricter regulations regarding these types of undertakings? Share your views in the comments below.

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