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You’ve heard of entrapment, but what does the term really mean in a court of law?

TV shows have glamorized the idea of undercover agents, but sometimes placing someone directly into the scene of a crime changes its outcome. It means that an officer doesn’t just witness a crime by being in the right place at the right time, rather he or she sometimes causes the crime itself. Entrapment is when undercover goes too far: when a government agent persuades someone to break the law, such as selling drugs to a hesitant customer.

Gangster movies are probably the most popular form of undercover work that people see on TV, but it does happen in real life, such as the recent seizure of over $100,000 worth of cocaine in Vail. Undercover operations include audio recordings, video surveillance and officers positioned as regular citizens.

The idea is to catch a criminal in the act. What happens if an officer claiming to be somebody else has arrested you?

Can I claim entrapment?

Entrapment is when the officer encourages or forces the criminal act. For example, if an undercover officer persuades a casual passerby to purchase drugs, it can be argued that the passerby had no intention of breaking the law until pressured. To claim entrapment, the arrested must be unlikely to commit the crime without the officer playing a role.

Entrapment cannot be argued if a civilian acts of their own accord to break the law. This doesn’t just mean, for example, buying drugs in a prearranged meeting. Prior criminal records and character evidence can be used to prove intent beyond the isolated incident that lead to arrest.

Showing proof

Because it deals with nuances of operation and information, entrapment is a powerful defense but only under select circumstances. As with any criminal charge, it’s best to consult with an experienced attorney to explore options and the best course of action following an arrest.

Entrapment is a real defense to when street-clothed police overstep their bounds to make an arrest. Possession of drugs isn’t an automatic statement of guilt. It depends on circumstance as well as the means of any search and seizure.