Tuesday, December 2, 2014

                                    101 Things
                    An Author Needs to Know
                 About the Police and the Law

             What is the difference between 
                a sting and entrapment? 

A sting operation uses deception to catch a criminal in the act. Usually relying on undercover law enforcement officers to act as accomplices or victims, a sting operates with the goal of gathering enough evidence to bring about criminal charges. Though often glorified in movies and television, there is often great controversy over whether a sting operation constitutes entrapment, which is illegal in many regions. More controversial still is a journalistic sting operation, in which reporters attempt to gather and expose criminal information by going undercover.
Not all crimes leave easy trails of evidence behind. Prostitution, for instance, is nearly impossible to prove without direct evidence of money being exchanged for sexual services. A sting operation works by sending credible observers, such as police officers, into a situation where crime is thought to occur. The sting officer must walk a fine line between legitimately setting up a sting and entrapment, which involves coercing or pressuring people who would not ordinarily commit a crime into doing so.

The line between a sting and entrapment is very fuzzy; some countries do not even permit sting operations because of this ethical battlefield. According to the United States Department of Justice, a sting may naturally include situations where undercover agents offer enticements to potential criminals, in effect creating the opportunity for a crime to occur. Whether offering a bribe to a politician constitute a legitimate sting or entrapment may depend entirely on the judge or jury's opinion in any given case. For this reason, stings can sometimes be prohibitively expensive if there is a strong possibility of an entrapment defense.
There are a few basic elements to any sting operation, though a sting may last for minutes or years depending on the situation. Usually, a deception is set up by using undercover agents or other deceptive items, such as a rigged computer sold to a person suspected of illegal hacking. Often, stings focus on a targeted individual or group, such as a mayor suspected of taking bribes or men visiting a particular brothel. Successful stings also tend to end with an arrest or crackdown, where evidence recorded by the operation is enough to warrant an arrest, or the target actually engages in a crime.
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Chris said...

Yes, stings are controversial ways of catching people out and when they're done by newspapers to get a story, which some of our gutter press here (UK) have been known to do, they are particularly unsavoury. I suppose if the police know for sure that someone is doing something illegal and getting away with it through lack of anyone being prepared to testify, then that is one way of getting a conviction, but it is a very shady way of achieving it.

I'm not sure I'm any clearer as to the distinction between a sting and entrapment, Jody, but thanks for trying to clarify it anyway!

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. Let me give you an example. An undercover officer buying drugs from a known drug dealer is a sting.

An undercover officer thinks there is some inside hanky-panky going on at the bank because management reported to police that they are missing some money. He has nothing solid but he suspects one of the tellers. He flirts with this cute teller and becomes her friend. Over time he convinces her to let him sneak into the bank vault so he can steal 500K promising marriage and a great escape to some tropical island. She goes for it. That's entrapment. She wouldn't have done it without his push.

Chris said...

Got it. Ta.

Tamara said...

If I am understanding this correctly, Jody, it's when the cop has a hand in setting up the uunlawful act that he/she is guilty of entrapment. In a sting, the unlawful act is totally initiated and carried out by the perp.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara. Close. In the sting cited above the cop is actually initiating the unlawful act when he negotiates and buys drugs. So in that case it's not just the perp who carries out the crime. There's a buyer and a seller. But the seller would have sold to the next buyer any way.

The difference is when a person who wouldn't normally commit a crime, is coerced by the police into doing it. Let's say the cop gives a young kid $20 and says, go over to that guy on the corner and pick up a package for me. The kid does it for the money and he's arrested for buying drugs. He wouldn't have done it if the cop didn't get him involved. The kid's lawyer will argue that it was entrapment. And it was.

Tamara said...

I get it now.

Susan said...

Sometimes when I watch the cop shows on TV I say to my husband that the cops should be guilty of entrapment and he says no, here's why. I understand why sometimes, but still think it isn't quite fair in some instances. It seems like such a gray area. Thank you for explaining.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Susan. It is a gray area, and the defense attorneys love to play with it.