What is Entrapment?
Entrapment is a possible legal defense that can be used against a variety of criminal charges. In order to be convicted of a crime, a defendant must engage in the alleged unlawful conduct willingly and voluntarily. If a law enforcement officer convinces someone to commit a crime that they would not have otherwise committed, they did not commit the crime voluntarily under the law and can raise the defense of entrapment.
Entrapment is a rare defense and generally stems from undercover sting operations. In such an operation, an officer may deceptively pose as someone interested in criminal activity, whether as a partner or a victim. While an undercover officer should only be gathering evidence of criminal activity, officers may often persuade others into engaging in criminal activity that they were not previously planning. When a sting operation rises to this level, it can constitute illegal entrapment.
Federal agencies often use deep undercover operations to catch individuals involved in large-scale criminal schemes. They have the funds to conduct ongoing investigations during which undercover officers work closely with suspects, often engaging in criminal activity. For this reason, entrapment is often more common in federal criminal court. So how do you know whether the conduct of an undercover officer crossed the line into entrapment? The best way is to have a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer examine the circumstances of your case.
Common Entrapment Cases
Entrapment can be a problem in many situations, as law enforcement agencies use sting operations to catch many types of offenders. Some charges for which entrapment may be a viable defense include:
- Drug crimes
- Weapons crimes
- Terrorism crimes
- Child pornography
- Dog fighting
- Sex trafficking
Examples of Entrapment
Entrapment can occur in many different situations. Some scenarios include the following:
- An agent is undercover and has become close with members of a drug ring. The agent poses as a seller and offers to sell you cocaine. During the encounter, the agent asks if you’d be willing to transport some cocaine to the next state over. You hesitate and the agent flashes a gun, indicating that you could get hurt if you didn’t agree. You agree to transport the cocaine and when you do, the agent arrests you for drug distribution.
- An agent is posing online as a 15-year-old girl online to try to catch child predators, and the officer reaches out to you specifically. You don’t really engage with them, yet they keep offering to send you sexual pictures. You finally agree, and when you accept the photo, you get arrested for child pornography.
- An agent pretends to be looking for a hitman and offers you $500,000 to kill his wife. You say no, that you won’t kill anyone. He keeps asking, pointing out all of your debts, your child’s college tuition, and telling you how easy it would be. He even threatens to tell your wife about your gambling issue. Finally, you agree and you discuss plans. Suddenly, you get arrested for conspiracy.
In all of the above situations, you were never planning to commit a crime. However, the undercover officer either provoked or coerced you into doing so. In these situations, you could defend against your criminal charges by claiming entrapment.
It is important to remember that not every deception by a police officer will rise to the level of entrapment. For instance, it is not illegal for an undercover agent to lie to you and tell you they are not a cop and that this is not a set-up. It’s also not illegal for an agent to give you the opportunity to commit a crime. If an officer asks you for drugs and you willingly sell him some, it is not entrapment even if he was lying to you. Instead, the agent or officer must convince you to do something illegal that you otherwise would not have done.
Presenting an Entrapment Defense in Court
When you claim entrapment, the federal prosecutor must then prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you had a predisposition for crime, the prior intent to commit the crime, or you were willing to commit the crime before you encountered the law enforcement officer
- The law enforcement agent did not persuade or induce you to commit the crime
A jury will determine whether you had a predisposition for such criminal activity based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, or whether the agent put the idea of the criminal design into your head. Federal juries can consider the following factors when making this determination:
- Your background, including any criminal history, economic status, and reputation
- Whether the law enforcement agent was the first one to suggest the criminal activity
- Whether you engaged in the criminal activity to make a profit
- Whether you displayed any reluctance to participate in the criminal activity
- Whether law enforcement agents repeatedly tried to persuade or induce you to participate
- Whether the agents simply offered the opportunity to commit a crime, which could present itself outside of the undercover circumstances
- Whether the agents merely asked you to commit the crime or offered substantial compensation or benefits to you
When examining these factors, the jury will decide whether you were reluctant until the undercover agents convinced you to follow through.
All criminal convictions come with serious consequences – especially federal convictions. You want to explore every possible defense available in your case, and if an undercover operation was involved, entrapment may be a viable defense.
Contact a Philadelphia Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately
Federal charges can have severe consequences, though there are often a number of defenses available, including entrapment. The best way to know whether you were entrapped or if other defenses may apply to your case is to discuss your charges with an experienced Philadelphia federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we know how to present even the most complex defenses to prevent wrongful convictions. If you’ve been arrested, don’t wait to call 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.