Entrapment: Pushing innocent people to commit crimes

It may be considered entrapment when authorities push people into committing crimes that they would not have committed on their own.

There is a range of techniques and methods that law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, and elsewhere, employ when they are conducting investigations. Many of these techniques are used in sting operations to catch people in the act of breaking the law or to gain more knowledge about alleged illegal activity. However, sometimes law enforcement goes too far and the result is entrapment.

This was the case in the arrest of three men in 2012 who were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, among other charges. According to The Huffington Post, at trial, evidence revealed that officers from the Chicago Police Department had used coercion to push the men into allegedly planning attacks against several locations. The undercover officers got the men drunk and actively encouraged the men. Furthermore, it was shown that the undercover officers had also taken steps to aid the men in planning and preparing to carry out the attacks, going so far as purchasing materials to be used in the attacks.

What is entrapment?

As defined in Wisconsin law, the term 'entrapment' refers to a defense available to a defendant whenever a law enforcement officer has used improper methods to induce him to commit an offense, and by the use of such methods has succeeded in inducing him to commit an offense which he was not otherwise disposed to commit. An example of entrapment could involve someone who has no associations with criminal organizations and no criminal record. Law enforcement approaches this person and threatens the person with bodily harm to force the person to deliver a package of drugs. The person is then ordered by law enforcement to bring the money for the drugs back to officers. The officers arrest the person and charge him or her with a drug charge such as trafficking or possession with intent to sell. That person would be able claim in their defense that he or she was a victim of entrapment.

The burden of proof

Considered an affirmative defense, there are generally two elements to prove when claiming entrapment.

First, a person must prove that he was "excessively induced," or driven by government agents into committing the crimes of which he is accused. Inducement is considered excessive if it is likely to persuade a person to commit an offense they would not otherwise have committed. For example, i f a police officer talks a man into soliciting a prostitute and then drives him into the area, that man could claim entrapment.

Second, it must be shown that the person who was charged with a criminal offense did not have a predisposition to commit the alleged crime before being induced by the government agents. For example, a scenario in which a law enforcement officer, posing as a prostitute, approaches a man in an area where it is known that prostitutes are generally available. The undercover officer reaches an agreement with the man and the man is then arrested. This would typically not be considered entrapment because the man could be seen as having been in the area for the express purpose of soliciting a prostitute. If law enforcement merely provides an opportunity for a person to commit a crime he may have been predisposed to commit anyway, that is not considered entrapment in most states.

Together these elements may show that a person was coerced into committing a crime by authorities that he would not have committed on his own.

Seeking help from a legal professional

Wisconsin state statute establishes entrapment and coercion as a defense option for criminal charges. Although state law permits the use of entrapment as a defense option, it can be difficult to prove such cases. Working with an attorney helps an individual present the defense best suited for the particular situation.

Keywords: defense, entrapment, charges, criminal