Entrapment Defenses For People Arrested in Undercover Sex Sting Operations

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

The Manatee County Sherriff's Department recently arrested 25 suspected pedophiles through the promise of sex with an underage girl.  Officers posed as the mother of a 13 year old girl on an incest chat room and promised men that she would allow them to have sex with her daughter.  The men then showed up at a house in Manatee County where they arrested.  Some of the men had alcohol and illegal drugs on them and they ranged in age from 19 to 75 years old.  One man allegedly travelled over 100 miles from Lake County for the sole purpose of having sex with the fictional underage girl.  The men have been charged with a variety of crimes with the most common being travelling with the intent to seduce, solicit or entice a child to commit a sexual act, use of a computer to seduce, solicit or entice a child to commit a sexual act and attempted lewd and lascivious battery.  This is the third such sting that was done by Manatee County law enforcement since the end of 2012.

Whenever there is a large scale sting involving crimes where a defendant believes they are about to commit a criminal act but end up actually meeting with law enforcement, there will be a question of whether or not there is an entrapment factor involved in the arrest.  Entrapment is an affirmative defense which would be brought up during trial by the defendant.  The argument presented by an entrapment defense is that if it weren't for the involvement and persuasion of law enforcement, the defendant would not have attempted to commit the crime which he or she is being charged with.  Most often, entrapment cases involve sex stings like this one where pedophiles or people in possession of child pornography are caught.  However, you also often see entrapment defenses raised in prostitution stings where men believe they are meeting with a prostitute who turns out to be an officer and also in drug cases where someone sells drugs to an undercover officer.

In Florida, there are two types of entrapment provided for under the law.  Subjective entrapment means that the defendant was not predisposed towards committing the crime he or she is being charged with and only committed the act because of law enforcement persuasion.  Some things which can be used in such a defense would be an absence of that same type of criminal activity in the past.  In a case like these child sex stings, if there is no evidence that the defendant was ever involved in child pornography or other sexual contact with a child, there is a possibility that they would not have been likely to commit the crime absent the involvement of officers online.  The other kind of entrapment under Florida law is objective entrapment.  This is rarer and would usually involve especially outrageous conduct on the part of law enforcement in order to persuade the defendant to commit the crime.

In stings such as this one where an entrapment defense is likely, law enforcement usually take precautions to make sure that they keep good records and do not present the appearance that they are pushing a potential defendant into doing something that they would not have been willing to do on their own.  The nature of the chat room in this case being an incest chat room and these men having conversation with the "victim's" mother about having sex with an obviously underage child will make an entrapment defense much less likely to be successful.  One of the defendant's apparently admitted that he was in the possession of child pornography, making an entrapment defense extremely difficult for him.  It is likely in the transcripts of these chats that police got the other men to admit to other sex crimes related to children such as meeting with other children or owning child pornography as well.  Such a background would show that these defendants were predisposed to committing these crimes and would make defending them on the basis of entrapment much more difficult.