For several weeks last year, the FBI ran what it admits was one of the largest illegal, child pornography distributing/sharing websites online. They had seized the site, but instead of taking it down, let it run to try to track other users who were downloading from the site. The is a major break from former FBI policy, but apparently they have done it several times in recent years. It’s like ATF’s gunwalking scheme, sometimes referred to as “Fast and Furious” that ended up with a bunch of weapons in the hands of violent drug dealers. It has entrapment overtones, not that they are coercing subjects, but that the behavior of the government so shocks the conscious that they should not be permitted to use this type of procedure to arrest people. We don’t want our government in the business of creating crime, and legal challenges are now underway on cases that were derived from these types of operations.
Ultimately, this signals that these law enforcement agents are more interested in making their prosecutions than they are in preventing crime.
A few weeks ago, I posted about what I believe to be the dirtiest trick utilized by law enforcement in their poorly-run internet sting operations: using pictures of OLDER decoys to supposedly catch pedophiles. I have personally seen cases where decoys of legal age were used to entice would-be consenting adults. I got an email yesterday that in another sting operation, in Orange County, agents were using images of decoys as old as 25 to entice their targets. I wish I could say that I was surprised. The sad truth is they claim to be chasing pedophiles, but they are using adults to lure people. There’s nothing wrong with meeting a 25-year-old on the internet, it’s the lie they slip in claiming the decoy is much younger that they use to arrest the sucker. While we don’t want adults traveling to meet underage children, our law enforcement resources are being misspent if we are pursuing people who are not actually looking to meet underage partners. The reality is even more harsh, as Florida’s draconian sentencing laws often don’t fit the crime. (See Marissa Alexander re: 10/20/Life)
Here’s a link to the image of the 25-year-old decoy: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzLomEB8bi2PTjZra3gtSFRyc0E/edit
Commentors have pointed me to the governingus.com blog that specifically follows these cases. It’s worth checking and they recently linked to a story out of Tampa by a reporter who really does some journalism and challenges the authorities. Noah Pransky used to work in the Fort Myers market, before moving on to a bigger market. We’ve linked to his stories on before on crimcourts, when he did a great expose on misuse of red light ticketing. Imagine that, the Fourth Estate keeping an eye on government intrusion.
Pransky, who is not on the defense side, unlike the author of this blog, says it perfectly, “Law enforcement may have crossed the line in going after some men who weren’t breaking the law at all.” He continues, “While many of those arrested will ultimately get well-deserved time behind bars, even if a few men were wrongly targeted by officers who were abusing their power, that’s too many victims. Those men will never be able to fully clear their names, even if their found not guilty, which is why we’re fighting for transparency, and your right to know that police aren’t engaging in entrapment.”
That reporting is especially important as the government goes further and further to invade our lives, and to keep secrets from our citizens: http://www.wired.com/2014/06/feds-seize-stingray-documents/
Posted in 10-20-Life, Criminal Law, Entrapment, Florida, Police, Sarasota / Southwest Florida, Tampa Bay area
Tagged entrapment, noah pransky, orange county, public information, safe summer, sexcrime, spiderweb, sting, tampa
- These stings entice would-be robbers into fake home invasions
- A second federal judge has thrown out cases based on this law enforcement behavior
A Federal District Judge in Los Angeles threw out the cases against three men who had been indicted for robbery, ruling that the government conduct in setting them up was outrageous and amounted to unconstitutional entrapment. The entrapment doctrine has been around for a long time, but the courts are generally reluctant to invalidate cases based on it. The law gives government agents a great deal of leeway in their investigations, but they can cross the line when they entice someone to commit a crime who would not have done so, otherwise. Apparently, there is growing use by ATF of these drug-house robbery set-ups, where agents promise vast payouts to entice suspects to agree to rob fictitious drug houses.
The biggest problem with these stings is that often, the suspects are not suspects of anything until the agents create the idea of the crime. In doing so, they turn people have little or no criminal history, into major felons. Agents create the crime to pump up their arrest and convictions numbers, while not doing anything to stop actual crime. It’s lazy law enforcement… instead of looking for actual robbers and drug dealers, they find suckers and talk them into conspiring to commit a fake crime, and then serve up an easy arrest.
This ruling is the second in a couple of months to reject the tactic. Both cases are being appealed by the government. One might wonder why they are spending the money to fight for the right to prosecute fake crime, instead of focusing on getting the real criminals off the street. At the very least, we can hope that these rulings gets the government agencies to think twice about the tactics they use to make their busts. It’s a basic tenet of entrapment law that the sting operations should target ongoing criminal activity, and has repeatedly been ruled upon by the Supreme Court, going back to the Sorrells opinion in 1932.
The government action can violate the due process tenets of the Constitution where the criminal conduct was “the product of the creative activity of law-enforcement officials.” Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369, 372 (1958). “In their zeal to enforce the law, however, Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” Jacobson v. U.S., 503 U.S. 540 (1992). Instead of fighting to be allowed to create crime, the government should be fighting the actual crime.
Posted in 14th Amendment - Due Process, 6th Amendment - Fair Trial, California, Criminal Law, Drugs, Entrapment, Federal, Police
Tagged due process, entrapment, jacobsen, los angeles, robbery, sherman, sorrells, sting, supreme court, undercover
This internet sting is the second one conducted by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office in less than a year, this week netting 30 arrests, including a couple from the Fort Myers area. Like the local Operation Spiderweb sting conducted in Lee County last year, suspects range in age from 21 to 64. I discussed Operation Spiderweb here on Crimcourts a few months back.
Something that stood out in the NBC-2 story on this operation, is that the Sarasota Sheriff, Tom Knight, specifically addresses the issue of entrapment. He states that he believes these individuals have done it before. I don’t know what evidence he has of that, but it goes directly to predisposition, which could negate entrapment. He goes on to say, “We didn’t ask anyone to meet us, they contacted us.” That goes to who initiated the contact, which is also an important consideration where entrapment may be an issue.
I point out the Sheriff’s comments specifically to contrast them to Operation Spiderweb by LCSO. Several of the defense attorneys in town have gotten together to compare fact patterns, and we have seen several cases where the investigators initiated contact. Some of these contacts occurred in adult forums that specifically prohibit juveniles from viewing. That’s a major issue for demonstrating predisposition. Unlike the example given in Sarasota, where the detectives placed a post specifically claiming to be 14 years old, Detectives responded to adult posts. It appears that the Lee County detectives failed to observe the basic safeguards against entrapment. That’s bad police work, and runs the risk of creating crime where crime would not have existed. That’s a violation of our Due Process protections. It’s also worth noting that at least one of the suspects arrested in the previous Sarasota sting was found not guilty at trial.
Posted in 5th Amendment - Miranda Rights, Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Police, Sarasota / Southwest Florida
Tagged criminal, entrapment, lcso, sarasota, sexcrime, spiderweb, sting