Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stokes v. Gann: Entrapment -- Does it violate Constitutional Rights?

How far can a law enforcement agency go in its sting operations to catch crime in action?

According to the Courts:
  • they can target a specific individual
  • they can repeatedly contact the target individual by phone
  • they can approach the target individual at work
  • they can pressure the target individual to commit the crime
  • they can provide the transportation and items needed to commit the crime

The lower courts agreed this is entrapment, but refused to acknowledge it as a violation of Constitutional rights violation. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that it is not a Constitutional Rights violation because the agent's conduct was not "so brutal and so offensive to human dignity that it shocks the conscience." The Court's Opinion cited a laundry list of court cases that give precedent to this standard.

What was the crime?

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks received reports that a co-worker of Steven Stokes was hunting deer illegally and launched an undercover sting operation against Stokes (we assume they also launched one against the co-worker, but that is not mentioned in the Opinion). Stokes finally committed the crime of hunting deer at night using a spotlight, which is called "headlighting deer." The agent provided the transportation, the gun, and the spotlight.

In Mississippi, entrapment is an affirmative defense unless the defendant "already possessed the criminal intent and the request or inducement merely gave the defendant the opportunity to commit what he or she was already predisposed to do," and the charges were dropped against Stokes.

Maybe this level of entrapment isn't a violation of Constitutional rights, but it certainly is ill-advised and all persons responsible for coming up with this scheme should be looking for another job -- NOT in law enforcement.

Read the opinion . . .

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