Regular viewers of the TV show Cops will have likely seen a shirtless, wild-eyed suspect claim that buying drugs from an undercover cop is entrapment. While entrapment is a legitimate defense, people often misunderstand what it means and when it applies to their situation, if at all.

Entrapment defined

As it appears on the Washington State Legislature website, entrapment is defined as follows:

  1. The criminal design originated in the mind of law enforcement officials, or any person acting under their direction, and
  2. The actor was lured or induced to commit a crime which the actor had not otherwise intended to commit.

It goes on to say that “The defense of entrapment is not established by a showing only that law enforcement officials merely afforded the actor an opportunity to commit a crime.”

In short, you need to prove that law enforcement provided both opportunity and encouragement. Law enforcement can legally provide an opportunity and then sit back to see if anyone decides to take that opportunity on their own accord.

Examples of what is and isn’t entrapment

Not entrapment: A man approaches an undercover cop outside a nightclub and offers to pay her for sex.

Entrapment: An undercover cop approaches a man inside a nightclub and offers sex in a nearby hotel where she has a room in exchange for money. He says “no,” but then she lowers the asking price a few times until he says “yes.”

Not entrapment: A man messages an undercover cop posing as a 13-year-old girl on Instagram to invite her over for sex in exchange for alcohol or money.

Entrapment: An undercover cop posing as a 13-year-old girl on Instagram messages a man and repeatedly compliments his appearance while inviting him over to have sex. He declines several times before finally agreeing after the cop assures him there’s no way they’ll be caught.

Not entrapment: Someone finds a bag of drugs on the ground left there as bait by law enforcement and they decide to sell it to someone that happens to be an undercover cop for a quick payday.

Entrapment: Someone finds a bag of drugs on the ground left there as bait by law enforcement. His first instinct is to call the police, but a nearby undercover cop says he knows where they can quickly and safely sell it for a massive amount of money, which they can share.

If you believe you have been the victim of entrapment, contact an attorney to discuss the case.