When law enforcement agencies assign undercover officers or agents or others to investigate suspected criminal activity, they have to be careful that they don’t engage in entrapment. If they do, any criminal case against someone arrested and charged with a crime can fall apart.
We often hear about entrapment when a person is arrested for soliciting someone for sex who turns out to be an undercover police officer or when someone is arrested for an alleged drug transaction with a person who is an undercover officer. However, entrapment can occur in all kinds of scenarios. Sometimes undercover federal agents pose as civilians to get “inside” suspected conspiracies to commit kidnapping, murder or terrorism.
How does Florida law define entrapment?
Entrapment laws vary somewhat by state but generally cover the same type of behavior. Under Florida law, entrapment occurs when a law enforcement agent or someone working on behalf of a law enforcement agency (an undercover informant) encourages someone to engage in criminal conduct “by employing methods of persuasion or inducement which create a substantial risk that such crime will be committed by a person other than one who is ready to commit it.”
People often feel like they’ve been the victim of entrapment when, under the law, they are not. Entrapment only occurs if an officer induces you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have. If a person walks up to an undercover officer at a party and asks them if they would like to buy some type of illegal drug, they say they would and hand them the money, that’s not entrapment – even if they claimed not to be a cop. It’s clear that the undercover officer didn’t encourage them to do anything they weren’t prepared to do.
On the other hand, if an undercover officer walks up to someone at a party and badgers them to buy drugs until they do, that could well be a case of entrapment. The difference is whether the crime would have been committed without the undercover officer’s actions.
Most law enforcement officers who go undercover know what constitutes entrapment and avoid it. However, it can also be a gray area. Even with the detail of the law to refer to, people can disagree on whether someone was entrapped. That’s why it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance if you believe you have an entrapment defense.