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Aggressive Law Enforcement Tactics or Entrapment

Posted in Articles on February 11th, 2009

This article was written and published by David Sobel in 2009.

There is a very fine line between encouragements on the part of law enforcement to engage in criminal activity and entrapment. The Supreme Court in Sorrells v. United States, stated that, “It is unconscionable, contrary to public policy, and to the established law of the land to punish a man for the commission of an offense of the like of which he had never been guilty, either in thought or in deed, and evidently never would have been guilty of it the officers of the law had not inspired, incited, persuaded, and lured him to attempt to commit it. ”

The application of the entrapment defense is a way for society to deter law enforcement from both targeting the innocent citizen as well as using utilizing unlawful policing techniques. As a general rule, entrapment is a complete defense to a criminal charge, on the theory that “Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person's mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute .”

There are two different theories on entrapment. The first is the subjective theory. This theory focuses mainly on the alleged defendant and whether the defendant would have committed the crime if the government had not engaged them. A valid entrapment defense has two related elements: (1) government inducement of the crime, and (2) the defendant's lack of predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct . Law enforcement officials commit entrapment only when it is determined that they have implanted the idea to commit a criminal act in the mind of an innocent person. The use of the entrapment defense is irrelevant if the government simply afforded the prospect the opportunity to commit the crime. For the government to entrap a defendant, the individual must prove that they lacked a predisposition to commit the crime in the absence of the government conduct and that the government must also create a motivation for the defendant to commit the crime.

The second theory on entrapment is the objective theory. This focuses on the conduct of the law enforcement rather than the conduct of the defendant. A succinct explanation of this theory is found in the Model Penal Code, “entrapment occurs when a police agent “encourages another person to commit an offense by … employing methods of persuasion or inducement which create a substantial risk that such an offense will be committed by persons other than those who are ready to commit it. ” This theory of entrapment focuses on the methods that law enforcement use rather than the defendant who had been persuaded to commit the crime, the predisposition of a defendant is irrelevant .

The objective theory can be seen as an effort on the part of the courts that adopt it as a method of controlling police conduct. This check on law enforcement is valuable to the community as a whole. It protects not just the criminals but the average law abiding person. Placing a check on the powers of the police like the objective theory is an effective method of preventing abuse and outrageous conduct.

Florida Entrapment Law

The Florida Supreme Court decided the case of State v Dickinson in an attempt to clarify the states position on entrapment law. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court acknowledged the “subjective” theory on entrapment as the prevailing theory under Florida law . The court stated that, “The essential element of the defense of entrapment is the absence of a predisposition of the defendant to commit the offense. The entrapment defense prohibits law enforcement officers from instigating a criminal act by persons otherwise innocent in order to lure them to its commission and to punish them. If the defendant seeks acquittal by reason of entrapment he cannot complain of an appropriate and searching inquiry into his own conduct and predisposition as bearing upon that issue. ”

Pursuant to Florida law, a defendant’s predisposition, as required under the subjective theory for entrapment, is irrelevant when determining if law enforcement violated a defendant’s due process rights. Alternatively, the emphasis is on the conduct of law enforcement. “ For example, applying the due process analysis, the Florida Supreme Court has held that an agreement to pay an informant a contingency fee conditioned on his cooperation and testimony in criminal prosecutions violated the defendant’s due process rights . “The due process rights of all citizens require us to forbid criminal prosecutions based upon the testimony of vital state witnesses who have what amounts to a financial stake in criminal convictions .”

The Florida Supreme Court was presented with such a case in State v Glosson . There as a result of a reverse sting operation the defendant was charged with trafficking in and conspiring to traffic in cannabis. The sting was conducted through a paid informant. For the informant’s services in this and other sting operations, the State agreed to pay the informant ten percent of all civil forfeiture proceedings resulting from any case the informant initiated.

The Florida Supreme Court held that the contingent fee agreement between the State and its informant violated respondents' due process rights under the Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 9 . The Supreme Court reasoned that “the informant here had an enormous financial incentive not only to make criminal cases, but also to color his testimony or even commit perjury in pursuit of the contingent fee. ” The court found that Glosson’s due process rights were violated to the extent that dismissal of the charges were warranted. The court stated that: “We can imagine few situations with more potential for abuse of a defendant's due process right. The informant here had an enormous financial incentive not only to make criminal cases, but also to color his testimony or even commit perjury in pursuit of the contingent fee. The due process rights of all citizens require us to forbid criminal prosecutions based upon the defense. ” The fact that the police were paying the informant a substantial amount of money went against all notions of a fair trial. It was a situation that was ripe for abuse and could prevent the defendant from receiving a fair trial. Further, the informant had a motivation to make the cases larger due to his contingency fee agreement.

In State v Williams, the Broward Sheriff’s Office recovered a large amount of power cocaine. Instead of destroying the cocaine as is standard procedure, the cocaine was sent to a police laboratory where Sheriff’s chemists cooked the cocaine and converted it into the highly addictive and illegal narcotic crack cocaine. The sheriff’s office would use this crack to conduct sting operations. Leon Williams was arrested as a result of a reverse sting operation for purchasing crack cocaine within 1000 feet of a school. The Florida Supreme Court stated that the actions of the Broward Sheriff’s Office violated the defendant’s due process rights by “cooking” up their own crack cocaine .

In barring the prosecution of Williams in this case, the court stated that “The illegal manufacture of crack cocaine by law enforcement officials violates the court's sense of justice and fairness .” The court was also troubled by the fact that a substantial amount of the crack rock that the Sheriff’s office cooked up that was lost during various reverse sting operations. “In this case, the State conceded at oral argument that some of the crack cocaine was lost during the reverse-sting operations. This fact is particularly outrageous considering that the police conducted the reverse-sting operation within one thousand feet of a high school. This lack of strict inventory control over the crack cocaine resulted in an undetermined amount of the dangerous drug escaping into the community. We find that this is an anomalous consequence inasmuch as the Sheriff is responsible for protecting the community. ”

The Broward Sheriff’s Office was creating more of the highly addictive crack cocaine and putting it back into the community that they were supposed to be protecting. The Sheriff’s Office was engaging in an activity that they as a law enforcement agency were supposed to prevent. If the chemist had not been wearing a badge and operating under the title of Deputy Sheriff, then their actions would have been criminal. Drugs like crack have tremendous amounts of ancillary crimes that are committed in an attempt to procure and to control crack. Robberies could have been committed to purchase this new crack, violent crimes could have and probably were committed in an effort to control the crack trade, and etc. It is impossible to determine how many crimes, were committed with and for the crack cocaine that the Sheriff’s Office produced, but any crime that was committed due to the crack that was placed in the community by the Sheriff’s Office is unacceptable.

The courts and law enforcement must be able to distinguish between a true criminal who was caught due to good police work and the innocent citizen who was caught up in a governments trap. Justice Brandeis warned of this stating, “The obstacle to the prosecution lies in the fact that the alleged crime was instigated by officers of the Government; that the act for which the Government seeks to punish the defendant is the fruit of their criminal conspiracy to induce its commission. The Government may set decoys to entrap criminals. But it may not provoke or create a crime and then punish the criminal, its creature. ”