What is Entrapment?

When accused of a crime, one of the common legal concepts defendants may use to fight charges involves the claim of entrapment. A claim of entrapment hinges on records of all interactions a defendant had with police officers before and during the crime in question. Put simply, entrapment occurs whenever police officers present an individual with the opportunity to commit a crime, pressure the individual to commit the crime (using any variety of methods), and then immediately arrest the individual after he or she commits the crime.

It’s vital to recognize the difference between entrapment and opportunity. Essentially, police officers may provide suspects with the opportunity to commit crimes without entrapping them. Common examples include prostitution stings and drug busts, where police will pose as criminals to coax suspects into offering illegal goods or services, and then arrest those suspects once they act on these opportunities. The concept of entrapment exists because the law generally expects people to resist the temptation to commit crimes. Entrapment occurs when police present an individual with an opportunity to commit an illegal act, and then pressure the individual to do so using extreme means.

Special Rules for Entrapment Claims

Each state has unique rules for handling claims of entrapment. Generally, states either use an objective standard or subjective standard to decide claims of entrapment. Using an objective standard, jurors must decide whether or not a police officer’s actions would have spurred a law-abiding citizen to commit a crime. Under the subjective standard, entrapment defenses are far less likely to succeed. Using this standard, jurors must decide whether or not the defendant’s prior criminal history or predisposition to commit crimes constitutes the defendant’s culpability regardless of police interference.

Another special rule for entrapment is that private citizens cannot entrap others. A private individual inducing another person to commit an illegal act has not committed entrapment, but has rather aided and/or abetted the crime in the eyes of the court. Only government officials such as police officers may be guilty of entrapment.

Understanding the Entrapment Defense

Entrapment is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant must convince a jury that “by a preponderance,” or more probable set of evidence, the police officers’ actions reached levels constituting entrapment. In states that follow the objective standard, meeting this burden of proof will lead to a not guilty verdict. In subjective standard states, proving entrapment only results in the burden of proof shifting back to the prosecution, who must then prove that the defendant is guilty. They can accomplish this by proving the defendant’s predisposition to commit the crime led to the defendant committing the crime, and not the actions of police officers or other government officials.

It’s also important for the accused to prove that the actions of the police officers or government officials involved in the case exceeded reasonable boundaries. In some cases, police officers have threatened suspects and their families and engaged in other unethical practices to essentially force suspects to engage in the illegal activity.

Successfully Claiming Entrapment

If you’re facing charges for a crime and believe you suffered entrapment, a reputable defense attorney will be essential in reaching a just result in your case. Criminal defense law is complex, and accused defendants have very little hope of proving entrapment claims without accomplished legal representation. Bear in mind however, that if you have a criminal record, it will be more difficult to prove an entrapment claim in states that follow a subjective standard.

Your attorney must be able to demonstrate to the court that the actions of the police officers or government officials involved in your case went well beyond acceptable levels for police behavior, and that any reasonable individual in your situation would likely have been significantly pressured to act in the same manner.