Law enforcement agencies often use undercover officers and agents to gather evidence against people whom they suspect are engaged in criminal activity. Agencies from the federal down to the local level may use undercover officers.
They may also use civilians to provide information on these alleged activities. Often, these “informants” are people who have been arrested and have agreed to secretly work on law enforcement’s behalf in exchange for the charges against them being reduced or dropped.
It’s perfectly legal for these people operating undercover not to reveal or acknowledge their true identity or purpose, and they can lie if asked. What they cannot do is encourage or pressure someone to commit a crime they wouldn’t otherwise have committed. That’s called entrapment.
An example of entrapment
Say someone is arrested for selling opioids to an undercover officer. If they simply walked up to the person and asked if they had any opioids, and the person sold them some that they had on them, that’s not entrapment. However, if an undercover officer relentlessly badgered someone into selling them drugs until they finally got some for them, that could be seen as entrapment.
That’s a very simple example, and most cases are more complicated than that. However, the difference is that in the second case, the undercover officer encouraged someone to commit a crime they can argue they had no intention of committing.
Ultimately, if someone is charged with a crime for which they feel they were entrapped, it’s up to a jury to look at the totality of the circumstances and determine whether it was indeed entrapment.
Entrapment doesn’t just occur with drug crimes. Undercover agents and informants are used for white collar crimes, terroristic crimes and elaborate criminal schemes. With experienced legal guidance, you can determine whether you have a valid entrapment defense and – if so – work to convincingly present that defense.