“I was entrapped by the police”. This is often heard when the police engage in sting operations to catch a criminal. But when is police conduct entrapment versus good police work? In California, entrapment occurs if the following three circumstances existed: (1) an officer communicated with the defendant before he committed the crime with which he was charged, (2) the officer’s communication included an inducement to commit the crime, and (3) the inducement was such that it would have motivated a “normally law-abiding per- son” to commit it.
What about sting operations? Most people agree that it is distasteful for officers to entice people to break laws that the officers are sworn to enforce. As the California Supreme Court observed, it’s the job of officers “to investigate, not instigate, crime.” This has also been asserted by the U.S. Supreme Court which said, “The function of law enforcement is the preven- tion of crime and the apprehension of criminals. Manifestly, that function does not include the manufacturing of crime.”
But not all sting operation rise to the level of entrapment. In the words of the California Supreme Court: It is impermissible for the police or their agents to pressure the suspect by overbearing conduct such as badgering, cajoling, importuning, or other affirmative acts likely to induce a normally law-abiding person to commit the crime. When the police go too far, the conduct may be shown to be entrapment.
If proven, Entrapment constitutes a complete defense to a crime. This means that if a jury finds that the defendant was entrapped, he goes free. It doesn’t matter that the crime was a major felony, or that the evidence against him was over- whelming, or even that his guilt was not disputed. If he was entrapped, he is entitled to an acquittal.