Law enforcement agencies at all levels sometimes use undercover officers to find evidence of criminal activity. They also may use civilians for this purpose. An undercover officer typically gains the trust of those they’re trying to catch – or at least convince them they are who they say they are. A civilian is likely already known and trusted by the people under suspicion. People often become confidential informants in exchange for receiving leniency for their own criminal activity.
Both are considered “law enforcement agents” under the law. The goal is to get evidence of a crime being committed. However, there can be a fine line between being in position to witness a criminal act and actually provoking it.
What does Texas law say?
When the latter happens, it’s considered entrapment. Under Texas law, if “the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense,” they can use entrapment as a defense for that crime. The law also states, “Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.”
Trained law enforcement officers who work undercover typically know how to avoid entrapping a suspect. However, that doesn’t mean that some don’t get overzealous in the efforts to make an arrest. Civilians are more likely to go too far and cross into entrapment. Both are allowed to deny that they’re law enforcement agents if asked. That alone doesn’t make their actions entrapment.
What is considered when someone uses an entrapment defense?
Asserting that you were entrapped can be difficult, because it may be your word against a law enforcement officer’s. A jury would need to look at the entirety of the situation, including your own history and potential motives (if any), to determine whether they believe you would have committed the alleged crime if the agent hadn’t “induced” you to do so.
The issue of entrapment can come up in virtually any kind of criminal charge, from selling drugs to elaborate white-collar criminal activity. If you believe that you were entrapped into committing a crime, it’s important to have experienced legal guidance to protect your rights and present your case.