The television show "To Catch a Predator" with Chris Hansen has made internet sex stings a popular topic in America. The show features undercover police officers posing as underage children and teenagers on websites such as Craigslist and other internet chat rooms. Typically, the officers post an ad suggesting underage sex is being offered and then wait for someone to take the bait. The officers then engage in a chat with this person where sexual ideas and offers are discussed and eventually a face-to-face meeting is suggested. When the unsuspecting target arrives at the meeting place, they are greeted with a camera crew and handcuffs.
Shockingly, many of the "predators" who appear on this show are not your stereotypical criminals or child molesters. Often times it is the neighborhood doctor, businessman or father; people with great reputations and spotless criminal records who find themselves caught up in these types of stings. Although internet sex stings have been glamorized by this show and the media, there is nothing glamorous about them. Even less glamorous is the fact that many law enforcement officers use these stings as opportunities to entrap people who never would have committed a crime by bending the rules and using unethical police procedures.
In recent months, law enforcement officers in the Tampa Bay area have been criticized for their handling of internet sex stings. Officers have been accused of replying to ads on legal adult dating websites such as plentyoffish.com, chatting with the target and only revealing they are underage after the target has already begun to fall for the fictional person. Other officers have even gone so far as threatening or accusing the target of being homosexual when they tell the officer they do not want to meet. This type of police misconduct is unacceptable and has resulted in many charges being dropped against those arrested.
In Florida, there are two theories of entrapment. Objective entrapment occurs when egregious law enforcement conduct amounts to a violation of the defendant's right to due process under the Florida Constitution. Objective entrapment was described by one court in Florida as "government action so egregious that even a predisposed defendant's due process rights are violated."
The other theory is subjective entrapment which focuses on the defendant's predisposition to commit the crime. The Florida Supreme Court established a three-part test for determining when subjective entrapment applies. First, the defendant must prove he was induced into committing the offense. Inducement includes persuasion, fraudulent representations, threats, coercive tactics, harassment, promises of reward, or pleas based on need, sympathy, or friendship. If inducement is proven, the second question is whether the accused was predisposed to commit the offense charged. This means the accused was awaiting a propitious opportunity or was ready and willing, without persuasion, to commit the offense. The third question is whether the entrapment evaluation should be submitted to the jury.
The law surrounding entrapment and internet sex stings is extremely fact sensitive and varies with each defendant and his/her chats with law enforcement. If you think you were entrapped in an online sting operation you should contact an experienced attorney immediately to see if this defense might be available to you.
The Hebert Law Group has the experience and knowledge necessary to fight these types of charges. Call us today for a free, 1 hour consultation at 727-573-2622.