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What is the entrapment defense for those accused of felonies?

Police in Massachusetts use many different techniques to gather evidence in a criminal investigation. One of the most frequently used techniques is the pre-arranged transaction, such as the sale and purchase of illegal drugs. To execute the scheme, a police officer will offer to sell (or purchase) illegal drugs from the suspect, and the suspect will be arrested as soon as the transaction is complete. Many people wonder how a person can be convicted of a felony when the police played an active role in commission of the crime itself. The ability of the police to use such a technique to gather evidence is sharply limited by the "entrapment defense."

A person cannot be convicted of a crime when the intent to engage criminal conduct was induced by the police. A person asserting the entrapment defense must show that he or she had no intention of engaging in criminal conduct before the police took actions to persuade the person to commit the crime in question. In other words, a person who had formed an intent to commit a crime before the police acted cannot rely on the entrapment defense.

In Massachusetts, courts have ruled that whether entrapment occurred depends upon the suspect's state of mind. If the police brought about an innocent suspect's disposition to engage in criminal activity, the entrapment defense will apply. If, however, the police did nothing more than set a trap to catch a person who was already disposed to commit a crime, the entrapment defense will not prevail. The police are prohibited from entrapping unwary innocent persons, but they can properly use undercover methods to gather evidence against a person who has already formed a criminal intent.

Making successful use of the entrapment defense is not always easy to do. Those who want to utilize this defense strategy should make sure they fully understand the law behind the entrapment defense and how it will apply to the unique facts of their case.

Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Criminal Model Jury Instructions, "Instruction No. 9140 - Entrapment," accessed on April 29, 2018

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