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Entrapment: When the Police Cross the Line

Entrapment: When the Police Cross the Line

Prosecuting certain crimes often involves sting operations with undercover police officers to catch criminals. When law enforcement uses tactics that entice suspects to commit a crime, it can constitute police entrapment.

What Constitutes Police Entrapment?

Certain victimless crimes such as prostitution, pornography distribution, and narcotics offenses rely heavily on undercover law enforcement sting operations. Police officers pose as criminals to gain the confidence of suspected criminals involved in crimes that are under investigation. Sting operations often involve bribery tactics, fencing, and solicitation of suspects by undercover agents. In undercover cases, police officers are allowed to use certain tactics to induce suspects to commit a crime or confess to a crime to instigate an arrest. However, if police officers exceed allowed limits, actions may constitute police entrapment. In such cases, suspects have the right to consult a criminal defense lawyer for entrapment charges.

Entrapment Standards

The United States Supreme Court enforces federal entrapment standards to protect innocent victims from police entrapment. The court states that the primary duties of police officers is to prevent crimes rather than punish crimes. The court argues that it is not a police officer’s duty to incite and create crime for the sole purpose of prosecuting and punishing suspected criminals who likely would not have committed the crime if not enticed or lured by police officers.

To determine if police entrapment has been committed, many states apply the federal entrapment test. This test looks to see if law enforcement officers or undercover agents lured a suspect into committing a crime through enticement actions based on the suspect’s criminal history. Other states ignore the suspect’s criminal background and focus only on incentive or enticement activities by police officers. Certain law enforcement techniques typically do no constitute entrapment under both federal and state entrapment standards. Such crimes include:

  • Agreeing to buy or sell drugs
  • Agreeing to buy or sell stolen property
  • Offering to engage in solicitation of prostitution
  • Posing as a minor in a pornography investigation
  • Impersonating a hit man in a murder investigation
  • Leaving keys in an unlocked car during a police surveillance for auto theft

Through the years, a criminal defense lawyer has seen numerous cases of police entrapment brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Cases cover a variety of crimes dating back to prohibition days and the illegal sale of moonshine whiskey. Entrapment cases often include solicitation of suspects for various drug offenses, pornography crimes, and tax evasion.

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