Law enforcement in Houston has made a strong effort to stem prostitution in recent years. In addition to more aggressive prosecution of prostitutes and Johns alike, the police have also stepped up their efforts to increase arrests so police departments can receive federal grant money. One of the tactics they rely on is known as a sting operation. Police need arrest numbers to justify the federal grant money law enforcement will receive. Police will scoff at the notion of a quota-based system, but receiving grant money is specifically based upon performance, i.e., arrest numbers.
To meet these performance-based arrests numbers, police engage in sting operations that are a deceptive trap set up to capture both prostitutes and those who solicit them. But are they legal? Many of these stings result in mass arrests over the course of several days. But does the use of deception in these operations result in entrapment? After all, entrapment is one of the strongest defenses in a Houston prostitution case. Below, we discuss when these sting operations cross the line into illegal entrapment. Many unwitting citizens looking for a companion find themselves the victim of a law enforcement entrapment scheme when all they were searching for was a legal massage.
Understanding Sting Operations
A sting operation is usually a large-scale police operation. In some cases, multiple law enforcement agencies will work together on a sting. These operations typically involve a member of law enforcement posing as a prostitute or john. They do this in an effort to lure an unsuspecting prostitute or john into a trap typically set up in a hotel room. These hotel rooms are considered public property under Texas law.
Once at the hotel, police will pretend to be seeking a sexual arrangement. When the target offers to exchange sex for money, other officers waiting nearby will typically swoop in and make an arrest.
In recent years, these sting operations typically begin online. Police will often work for days leading up to the sting operation setting up fake dates before making a string of arrests during the day. The problem is that in some cases the police could push a suspect to commit a crime they were otherwise unlikely to commit. This is known as entrapment.
What is Entrapment?
Entrapment is any effort by police to coerce an individual into committing a crime they otherwise would not have committed. This effort generally must be inappropriate, abusive, or improper. For example, the use of threats of violence or other repercussions could potentially lead to a valid entrapment defense. If a jury decides a defendant was entrapped, they will avoid a criminal conviction entirely.
When is a sting operation entrapment?
It is important to remember that simply providing a suspect the opportunity to break the law is not entrapment. In this case, law enforcement would not be guilty of entrapment. After all, a defendant that fails to resist the temptation to break the law when presented with a fake opportunity to do so is not entrapment.
When a Houston prostitution defense attorney reviews cases involving sting operations, they should consider two important factors. First, they must determine if the efforts of police would have coerced any reasonable person to commit the crime. If the answer is yes, entrapment likely occurred.
The second factor to consider is to consider the entire circumstance together. Did the defendant seem hesitant? Was the undercover officer aggressive? If a neutral bystander could review what occurred and determine that the defendant seemed pressured, this could be further evidence of entrapment.
In either of these cases, a dedicated and board-certified criminal defense attorney can potentially make use of an entrapment defense at trial.