Just about everyone has heard the line about a police officer having to tell you he’s a cop or it’s entrapment, and while plenty of people know that’s a total myth, most people couldn’t tell you what entrapment actually is. That’s because it’s a complex legal concept that is fairly difficult for even an experienced attorney to prove in most cases. Regardless, it’s still something that more people should be aware of.
So What is Entrapment Anyway?
Essentially, entrapment occurs when someone is tricked into committing a crime that he or she would normally not commit. But entrapment is much more complex than it initially sounds. For example, the law states that entrapment only occurs when it involves official conduct that uses pressure, harassment, fraud, flattery or threats. In other words, if a police officer simply presents someone with an opportunity to commit a crime, it is not entrapment.
Sometimes there is a very fine line between what is or is not defined as entrapment and it is often up to the suspect’s defense lawyer to prove to the court that entrapment did, in fact, occur.
Examples of Entrapment
The most obvious, and easiest to prove, examples of entrapment are those that involve threats. If a police officer threatened to beat someone with a bat if they didn’t commit a car jacking, that would most certainly qualify as entrapment. (It is worth noting that if you commit a crime out of duress because you fear for your life or the life of someone else, you have an automatic defense whether that person is a police officer or not.)
Another easy-to-prove case of entrapment would occur if an undercover cop fraudulently convinced someone that something wasn’t illegal. For example, if the officer told someone about running a pyramid scheme and kept telling the suspect that it was “all above board,” then the defendant could absolutely claim the officer wrongly entrapped them into committing a crime unknowlingly.
Other forms of entrapment aren’t so cut and dry. For example, it’s hard to put a distinct definition of what constitutes harassment when it comes to entrapment. Obviously calling someone non-stop, even calling their workplace and their family is considered harassment, but if an undercover officer brings up a crime to a suspect, it wouldn’t be harassment as there is a lot of grey area between the two. It would be up to the defendant’s lawyer to show that the suspect only committed the crime because they felt harassed into doing so.
On the other hand, if an undercover officer tells someone about an opportunity to commit a crime, sets up the illegal activity and tells the suspect there’s no way they’ll get caught, entrapment has not occurred because the officer did not push the defendant to do something they would not normally do otherwise.
The police often use undercover officers in getting suspects to meet a minor for sex by establishing a fake identity of a minor. While they may send enticing photographs or encourage a meeting, a reasonable law abiding person wouldn’t be induced to meet a minor for sex under those or most circumstances, so this is not considered entrapment in most cases.
Complications With an Entrapment Defense
The biggest problem you will face when arguing entrapment occurred is proving that what you claim happened actually did occur. If you and the officer have the same story and simply disagree on whether or not it was entrapment, or if there is a recording of what happened, then this isn’t a real problem. But if you say that you were forced to commit a crime because the officer threatened you and he says he simply presented an opportunity and you jumped at it, you may have a hard time with this defense.
Another big problem is if your statements after you were arrested contradict your claims of entrapment. That’s why you should never speak with police unless you have a lawyer present.
Creative Commons Image by Simon Donini