When people think of “entrapment” by law enforcement, they may envision something as simple as a police officer pretending to be a prostitute to catch people soliciting these services. They may think of something they’ve seen on TV, like officers and agents who go “deep undercover” for months to catch drug traffickers.
Law enforcement agencies at all levels use undercover officers and confidential informants (CIs) to catch those whom they believe are involved in various types of criminal activity. CIs aren’t law enforcement professionals. People often agree to be CIs to help minimize criminal consequences they’re facing. They can be especially valuable because they’re generally known by those under investigation. However, they’re also more likely to step over the line from getting evidence to encouraging illegal behavior, which is where entrapment comes in.
What does Ohio law say about entrapment?
Entrapment isn’t a criminal offense. There’s no law against entrapment. It’s what’s considered an “affirmative defense” that may be an option for someone charged with a crime. However, if an undercover law enforcement officer or CI (both often referred to as “government agents” or “officers of the government”) was involved in activities leading up to your arrest, that doesn’t automatically mean you were entrapped.
Ohio Supreme Court rulings have helped define when entrapment can be used as a defense. One such ruling said this defense “is established where the criminal design originates with the officials of the government, and they implant in the mind of an innocent person the disposition to commit the alleged offense and induce its commission in order to prosecute.”
For example, if an undercover officer asks someone if they can sell them opiates and they do, that doesn’t qualify as entrapment. The person already had the drugs and was willing to sell them.
On the other hand, say an undercover officer or CI is assigned to get evidence of a plot to rob a bank. The people under investigation don’t seem to be planning to rob a bank, so the person working undercover suggests it, leads the planning and arranges for transportation to the bank. That’s a pretty clear case of entrapment.
Most entrapment defenses involve something in the middle of those two scenarios. If you believe that you were entrapped into committing a crime you had no plan to commit, it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance to determine whether you have an entrapment defense.