What Counts As Entrapment?

It will come as no surprise that law enforcement authorities are empowered to go to great lengths to investigate criminal activity. While police and detectives do have broad discretion in a lot of ways, there are some limits. One of these limits is that police cannot entrap defendants.

The actual meaning of "entrapment," however, is the subject of a fair amount of popular confusion. Perhaps thanks to television crime dramas, many Americans think that entrapment rules prevent police officers from tricking citizens into doing something illegal. The actual rule allows police officers to engage in quite a bit of dishonesty.

As an example, a Dallas judge sentenced a 36-year-old man to seven years in prison last week. The man received this sentence after being convicted of solicitation of sex from a minor on Facebook. Police officers caught the man by posing as teenage girls and having several online conversations with the man.

Despite the trickery and deceit involved in this operation, it probably does not count as entrapment. Generally, entrapment only occurs when the investigator initiates a crime that the defendant would otherwise be very unlikely to commit. In practice, it is often hard to make a successful entrapment argument because any predisposition to commit a similar crime would show that the defendant was already interested enough - and that the investigator was merely providing an opportunity.

Although entrapment is supposed to function as a limit on the deceit that police officers can use to investigate crimes, it rarely protects defendants. Instead, police can legally assume false identities and trick defendants into providing evidence of a crime.

Source: Dallas Morning News, "Man sentenced to 7 years for soliciting Garland girl online for sex," Associated Press, Feb. 7, 2013

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