It seems like something out of a movie: an undercover cop posing as a buyer for drugs and other substances in order to make a sting. Undercover police work, however, is not fiction. King 5 News recently reported the success of a three month long undercover operation to bust 24 drug dealers. As of the news report, 20 of the 24 suspects were arrested. Many of the arrested suspects had prior convictions and arrests on their records, some of whom have been arrested over 25 times. Residents and business owners in the area are relieved by the bust, however voiced concerns about possible long-run effects of the bust, mainly that even after their sentencing, these dealers will go right back to what they were doing before.
These drug dealers may be in jail for a long time, however, as VUCSA's drug penalties are very strict. Many of them could be facing felony charges under VUCSA, and up to ten years in prison.
Undercover Police Action
It is a commonly circulated myth that undercover police officers must reveal themselves to you if you simply ask politely. This trick might work in the movies, but in reality, an undercover officer merely needs to make sure he is not setting someone up for entrapment; in fact, undercover police can even lie to suspects. Television shows and movies like to depict undercover police work as very structured and rule-oriented, however, while there are certain practices that officers must follow, they will not be foiled by having to answer a simple question. Some undercover activity may seem like entrapment, however, entrapment is much more difficult to use as a defense than many believe.
What Is Entrapment?
Entrapment is a criminal defense defined in RCW 9A.16.070 for use in criminal proceedings. The defense of entrapment is difficult to meet the requirements for, as it relies on the overall intent and the character of the defendant. The requirements are:
- The criminal design originated in the mind of law enforcement officials, or any person acting under their direction, and
- The actor was lured or induced to commit a crime which the actor had not otherwise intended to commit.
There is additional language in the statute that reads:
- 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.
This means that the officer must have come up with, thought of, or otherwise imagined the crime they wanted to arrest you for. It also means you cannot have had any intent at all to commit that crime without the outside influence of the police officers. Finally, entrapment does not mean the cop gave you an opportunity to commit a crime. Because of these requirements, focusing your defense on entrapment may not be as successful as trying to get evidence thrown out. For example, if an undercover officer suspects you are a drug dealer and simply asks for a sale and makes an arrest once you bring him some drugs, that is not entrapment. However, if he suspects you are a drug dealer, and pressures you into purchasing drugs to sell to him or others, when you would not have otherwise done so, that may be entrapment.