What Is Entrapment?

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Sept. 21 1999 6:10 PM

What Is Entrapment?

Patrick Naughton, a top Internet company executive, was arrested last week for allegedly crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with a 13-year-old girl, whom he had met in an Internet chat room. The 13-year-old girl turned out to be an FBI agent. Why is this not entrapment?

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In most states, a successful entrapment defense requires the defendant to prove three things:

  1. The idea of committing the crime came from law enforcement officers, rather than the defendant.
  2. The law enforcement officers induced the person to commit the crime. Courts have traditionally maintained a high burden of proof for inducement. Simply affording the defendant the opportunity to commit the crime does not constitute inducement. For inducement to be proved, officers must have used coercive or persuasive tactics.
  3. The defendant was not ready and willing to commit this type of crime before being induced to do so. If an undercover cop bought cocaine from a person carrying a kilogram of the drug, the seller could not plead entrapment, even if coercion were involved in the sale, since his intent to sell was clear. Most courts also allow a defendant's predisposition to be demonstrated through prior conduct or reputation.

The reported facts of the Naughton case do not appear consistent with these requirements. Naughton is alleged to have carried on a five-month Internet relationship with the undercover officer during which he repeatedly solicited sex and ignored warnings that her age might get him in trouble. Also, Naughton purportedly frequented chat rooms used by adult men to contact teen-age girls and is alleged to have had sexually explicit images of children on his laptop computer.

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