Seminole County Arrests 26 in Child Sex Sting by Posing as Minors
Law enforcement in Seminole County announced on March 24 that they arrested 26 men in a child sex sting. In the sting, police officers posed as children online where the men made contact with them. In the sting, the officers posed as 11-14 year olds and had internet chats and even phone conversations with the men, who agreed to meet the “children” at a house in Seminole County for some sort of sexual activity. All but two of the men were from Florida, but the men did travel from all over the state to the house where they were later arrested.
Police in such child sting operations have to walk a fine line between setting up a plausible scenario where the defendant breaks the law while also not pushing the defendant in to committing a crime that he normally would not be predisposed to commit. In such stings, police are allowed to pose as a child to act as “bait” for a predator, however, if someone would not normally even imagine meeting a child for sex, they cannot be pushed into meeting one by police simply to get an arrest.
This is a legal concept called entrapment, a defense that can be offered in court that would effectively mean admitting what was done was against the law, but that the defendant would not have done that crime in the first place if not persuaded by police officers. It is a common defense in child sex stings such as this one where there is good evidence that a defendant committed the crime, but there could also be an argument that the defendant would not have done the act at all if it weren’t for police involvement.
Entrapment defenses are quite complicated and involve meeting many different factors in order to be successful. There are two types of entrapment in Florida “subjective entrapment” and “objective entrapment”. With subjective entrapment, the defendant needs to prove that the government convinced them to commit a crime that they normally would not have committed. Objective entrapment is a bit different and involves especially bad law enforcement conduct when it comes to persuading someone to commit a crime.
Entrapment defenses are somewhat common whenever there is a police sting such as this one. It is often seen in cases such as drug stings, prostitution stings and child sex stings, for example. Often when the police are involved from the beginning, the people arrested will try to argue that they wouldn’t have done the crime if police hadn’t convinced them to.
While police can overstep their boundaries when it comes to undercover stings, courts have found that they are legal if done correctly. Police can contact someone posing as a child; their behavior after that point has to be cautious though. If, for example, a person finds out that a person they have been chatting with is 13 years old and replies that they don’t want to speak to them or that they are not interested, and police then keep pressuring that person to meet, it would mean a much stronger entrapment defense than if someone knows the person they are chatting with is 13 and the defendant pushes for a sexual relationship.