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Are You A Cop? Debunking The Entrapment Myth


In these tough economic times, it’s good to see that it’s not just the little people who are suffering from financial woes.

In case you haven’t checked out the news lately, Britain’s Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson was caught trying to sell access to Prince Andrew for a cool $718,500 (or 500,000 pounds for those of you from across the pond).  She’s in a ton of hot water, both with the Royal Family, press, and the increasingly annoyed public.  And though she’s apologized for her actions, chances are it’ll be a long time before she’ll be back in anyone’s favor, least of all the Royal Family.  She’s also still heavily indebted in legal fees, which will take doing a hell of a lot more Weight Watcher commercials to pay off.

But it’s interesting how the press caught the original Fergie (not to be confused with the one credited with lovely lady lumps).  The British press conducted a sting operation, and unlike here in the states where such methods seem only reserved for pedophiles, the Brits still seem to like employing them as often as they get the chance.

Anyway, I bring up this story because a friend of mine was watching the report with me when it broke and commented that if it were a police sting, Fergie could have stopped the whole thing from going down like it did if she just asked them if they were police officers.  I was quick to correct my friend, first because as far as I know it’s not illegal to sell access to Royal Family members – just embarrassingly stupid if you’re caught.  And second, police are free to lie if asked if they’re a cop.

Yes, I know some of you may have just fallen out of your chairs upon hearing such a revelation, but it’s true.  Cops don’t have to tell you the truth if you ask them if they’re a cop.  What you see in movies and television is simply an invention of Hollywood, or rather to be more accurate, it’s an over-exaggeration/misinterpretation.

The misunderstanding stems from general laws against criminal entrapment.  The statutes regarding this law differs from state to state, but typically they state that law enforcement officials may not trick or lead people into committing illegal actions that the person might not otherwise have committed without police manipulation.  Pay attention to that last part because it’s key to this confusion.  Entrapment laws are meant to prevent the police from forcing or tricking otherwise innocent people into committing crimes that they weren’t planning to commit.  They’re not designed to put suspects intending to commit crimes on equal footing with police, but rather are a type of anti-corruption law.

Thus if a prostitute is selling her wares on the street and an undercover cop comes by to solicit her for sex with the intent to arrest her once she gives it up, this wouldn’t be entrapment because the prostitute is already intending to sell sex.  The cop didn’t trick or force her into selling her body because she was already doing it on her own accord.  But contrast this with an undercover cop who’s riding in a car with a suspect that he’s trying to arrest for drug dealing.  If the cop handed the suspect some drugs and forced him at gunpoint or by some way of trickery into selling the drugs and then arrested him, a court would likely find this to be entrapment.  Why?  Because up until the cop forced the suspect into selling drugs, the suspect had no intention to do so.

Furthermore, in either case above, if the suspect in either scenario asked the undercover cop to identify himself, the cop would still be under no obligation to tell the truth.  One thing you might notice is the generalized entrapment law I mentioned earlier made no reference to police identification.  As state earlier, the laws are designed to prevent corrupt law enforcement techniques.  Therefore, an undercover cop doesn’t have to identify him or herself at all, regardless of the circumstances.

You might be wondering how this whole “Are you a cop?” myth got so out of hand.  Well, like I said, there’s some truth to it, but it’s mostly because of Hollywood make-believe that popularized it so much.  Most believe it originated among those in the sex trade, with many prostitute and pimps still believing in the myth today.  Though the reason why this illegal industry’s forefathers initially believed cops had to identify themselves when asked was based upon a skewed understanding of entrapment.  They believed a phony john’s testimony would be thrown out by the court on grounds of entrapment reasoning that the prostitute wouldn’t have sold herself had she known the john was a cop.  Alas, if only there were more law student prostitutes at the time, this whole mess could have been averted.

Now it might seem a little unfair and unbelievable that this long held myth isn’t true.  But the fact of the matter is if it were true, it would make police sting operations and undercover police work obsolete.  Because chances are even the most novice criminals would have enough sense to remember to ask everyone they come in contact with whether or not they’re a cop.

So the lesson here folks is: don’t get your legal advice from movies, unless it’s a Chuck Norris flick, in which case his words supersede all laws.

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