Entrapment is a legal defense a criminal defense attorney can present in court. The defense can be used in California. When a defense lawyer claims the defendant is a victim of entrapment, he or she is claiming the defendant did the crime at hand but only after being lured into doing so by law enforcement officials. A skilled defense attorney could get the criminal charges against his client dropped if he or she can successfully prove entrapment. Typically, in California, entrapment is most often claimed in police sting operations that involve drug dealing, sex offenses, prostitution and child pornography.

Understanding entrapment

California law defines entrapment as a crime that resulted after pressure by police. Furthermore, entrapment recognizes that a law abiding individual was led to commit a crime that he or she did not intend to commit. According to California law, entrapment involves law enforcement using flattery, fraud, threats, harassment and intense pressure on the individual to commit the crime.

Entrapment, if claimed, has to have involved more than just a police offering the chance to commit a criminal act, such a purchase of illegal drugs. Law officials are allowed, in accordance with California law, to conduct undercover operations, other “set up” measures, initiating the criminal activity and presenting an opportune time to commit a crime. These activities would not be considered entrapment.

When a court considers the defense of entrapment, the jury will be advised that the defendant’s past criminal history or character should not factor in to their decision. It is the responsibility of the jury to decide if the individual would have committed the crime had it not been for the strong persuasion of the police.

Proving entrapment by law enforcement

As in every case in California presented in a courtroom, a jury must believe “beyond reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty of a crime, be it a felony or misdemeanor, to convict him or her of the charge or charges at hand. When an aggressive criminal defense attorney works on a defendant’s behalf and claims entrapment, it is his or her job to prove it. The defense lawyer has to back up his or her claim of entrapment and show how the police lured the defendant into criminal activity illegally.

It is important to note, the defendant did not need to know the individual pressuring him to commit the criminal act were law enforcement officials. To prove entrapment, the defense attorney must show an officer communicated with the defendant before he or she committed the crime with which he or she was charged; the officer’s communication included an inducement to commit the crime; and the inducement was such that it would have motivated a “normally law-abiding person” to commit it. California Penal Code 647a states entrapment is when police plant the idea to commit a crime in the person’s head through enticement efforts.

Examples of entrapment

The following are just some examples of when entrapment likely occurred, thus entrapment could be used as an appropriate defense in court:

  1. Drug crimes: Sometimes an entrapment situation can result from undercover drug operations in the State of California. Perhaps, “Joe” has recovered from a marijuana addiction. The police may know “Joe” once struggled with the addiction and even sold marijuana at one point. Say a female undercover police officer contacts “Joe” on multiple occasions at work and home begging him to help her get marijuana to ease a medical condition. Even though he does not want to get involved, the undercover officer will not ease up on the pressure and continues to harass him until he given in so she leaves him alone. “Joe” then contacts a former dealer to get her the marijuana she is seeking.
  2. Sex crimes: Undercover operations also are common to bring to light sex crimes. However, entrapment is common in this situation, as men and women can be seduced easily. For example, someone may be charged with lewd public conduct, under California Penal Code 647. Maybe, he or she was a victim of entrapment, however. Perhaps, “Jim,” a single man, is followed through a dark park and enticed by an undercover female agent to begin to engage in inappropriate behavior, according to the law. “Jim” may have turned his head to her several times but her continues flirting and pressure led him to begin to undress and touch himself in response to her behavior. He may have said “no” before but her continuous encouragement to engage in masturbation made him give in.
  3. Prostitution: Similar to sex crimes, numerous individuals have fallen victim to prostitution through entrapment. “John” may have been walking out of a bar when he was approached by an undercover agent posing as a prostitute. He may say he is not interested at first but the agent decides to follow him, flirting and begging for a sexual encounter. She then says, he can just give her $50 to get in her hotel room. He hands her the money and is immediately arrested in violation of California Penal Code 647 (b).
  4. Child pornography: Police officers often rely on undercover operations to find individuals in violation of California Penal Code 311, which governs over child pornography. “Jake” finds himself in an online chat room for adults one evening while taking a break from work he is doing on his home computer. While in the chat room, “Paul” invites “Jake” to talk with him. “Paul,” after a few minutes, turns the conversation about how he fantasizes about women, teenage girls in particular. “Jake” and “Paul” talk about the topic for the evening and then again over the next few weeks during online encounters in the adult chat room. Eventually, “Paul” talks “Jake” into purchasing, through him, pornography of teenage girls. “Paul” first assures “Jake” the pictures are coming from another country so he won’t be caught. Even though “Jake” is very hesitant, “Paul” continues to press him until he finally agrees to buy the images.

Contact my office

Entrapment can be difficult to prove, as it involves casting blame on law enforcement officials. However, a California criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the state’s entrapment laws can cast “reasonable doubt” in situations that may have resulted from an entrapment situation. If you have been charged with a crime and believe you acted in response to intense pressure from the police, contact my office for a free consultation to review the elements of your case.


Legal references:

People v. Barraza, (1979).
People v. West, (1956).
California Jury Instructions, Criminal, CALJIC 4.61.
People v. Gregg, (1970).