Picture the scene.
An undercover police officer, Natasha, shows up at a house party. She makes friends with the host, John, and quietly asks about buying illegal drugs. When John agrees to sell her the drugs, Natasha reveals her true identity and arrests him.
What do you think? Did Natasha break the law by setting up John for entrapment? Or was this a legal and justified arrest?
Of course, it’s up to the police force to keep our communities safe and criminals behind bars. But is it possible for them to go too far in the line of duty? Are sting operations a form of entrapment, or are they two different things?
We’ll dive into that fascinating topic right now, so keep reading!
What Are Sting Operations?
American police teams have used “sting operations” to fight crime since the 1970s. Sting operations usually contain these four elements:
- The police create or exploit an opportunity to commit a crime
- The police target an individual or group likely to commit the crime
- The police hide, go undercover, or use another form of deception
- The police catch the criminal(s) in the act and arrest them
Drug rings and arms deals are two common scenarios for sting operations, but there are others too. Police officers may also use this tactic to catch prostitutes, solicitors, online sex offenders, and white-collar criminals.
For now, let’s go back to our opening scenario. Imagine that the police department was tipped off about John’s house party and the possibility of illegal drug use there. Natasha was assigned to go undercover and attempt to buy drugs from the host.
When Natasha asks John about buying drugs, John doesn’t hesitate to make the deal. As soon as she presents money and he presents the drugs, Natasha places him under arrest for breaking the law.
Because it’s legal for police officers to lie or use false identities, this was a perfectly executed (and perfectly legal) sting operation.
What Is Entrapment?
So then, what’s entrapment? Isn’t it getting “trapped” like Natasha trapped John at the party?
Entrapment happens when a law enforcement officer puts excessive pressure on someone to commit a crime. This could include harassment, threats, flattery, or even fraud to coerce the individual into breaking the law.
The understanding is that a normal person would have resisted the temptation to break the law if not for extreme or prolonged pressure to do so. In other words, they would not have been persuaded to commit the crime if not for the officer’s persistent actions.
Let’s return to our story of Natasha and John. Imagine that John refused to sell drugs to Natasha, even though it was obvious that other guests were using drugs at the party. With no solid evidence to go on, she leaves the party and goes home.
Now imagine she returns to John’s house the next day and asks again about buying drugs. This time, she makes up a story about her dying mother and how desperately she needs the drugs to ease her pain. While John is sympathetic, he still refuses to sell drugs.
Natasha goes back again and again to John’s house, ringing his doorbell every day for two weeks. One day she shows up crying, saying her mother only has a few days left to live. This time, when she begs him for the drugs, John gives in and agrees to the sale.
At this point, Natasha reveals her identity and arrests him.
What do you think? Is this still a standard sting operation, or did it cross over into entrapment?
Justified Arrests vs Unlawful Arrests
Ultimately, it would be up to the courts to determine whether John’s arrest was lawful. Hopefully, he’s able to hire a good criminal defense attorney to review and defend his case.
In the meantime, let’s analyze the situation ourselves. If John agreed right away to sell drugs to Natasha, he was clearly predisposed to the action. It’s obvious that he had no problem with the thought of breaking the law.
This is why the first scenario is a justified arrest at the end of a legal sting operation.
What makes the second scenario different? For starters, John didn’t immediately agree to sell drugs to Natasha. In fact, if she showed up at his door every day for two weeks, that means he refused over a dozen times.
Clearly, John feels hesitant to break the law. Perhaps he only has the drugs for personal use and never had any intention of selling them. Or maybe he suspects Natasha is an undercover cop and that’s why he hesitates to make a deal with her.
Either way, it appears that the only reason he finally gave in was because Natasha repeatedly harassed him. John’s attorney could argue that his client was innocent and only made the deal so Natasha would leave him alone, not because he was interested in breaking the law.
It would be up to the judge to make the final call, but Natasha’s extreme actions could be construed as entrapment. In that case, John’s arrest would be considered illegal and unlawful.
Do You Need Legal Advice?
As you can see, there’s a very fine line between entrapment and sting operations. In a nutshell, sting operations are legal, while entrapment is not.
It is perfectly legal for police in a sting operation to use a false identity and try to “catch” a criminal in the act. However, if the officer puts excessive pressure on the individual and coerces them into committing the crime, this could be ruled as entrapment.
Have you been caught up in a sting operation? Do you feel that the officers went too far and crossed over into entrapment? If so, seek legal advice from a reputable defense attorney in your area.
We’re not lawyers ourselves, but we do have plenty of great tips, advice, and information on our site. Stay right here and keep browsing for more interesting reads!