California entrapment standard focuses on police conduct

| Feb 18, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

If you commit a crime, the police might do something about it, of course. But police have been known to set traps that target people minding their own business (as well as the law), thus drawing them into committing a crime.

If you claim police entrapped you, American courts generally judge your claim using some type of either “objective” or “subjective” standard.

Which one California uses matters not only to whether you can or cannot go free. It also helps define the limits of what police in California can do to get an arrest.

One standard makes you prove how you were thinking

Thanks to our state Supreme Court, California does not use a so-called “subjective” standard. They focus firmly on the mind of a person trying to defend themselves.

If an undercover officer encouraged you to commit a crime, under a subjective standard you must show that you had no intention of breaking the law before you walked into the situation. You probably also need to show you are not the kind of person inclined (predisposed) to behave this way.

As you can imagine, it is hard to offer “proof” that you undeniably do not have a certain kind of mind. Many people think these subjective standards give police and prosecutors far too much room for entrapping law-abiding people.

California protects citizens against police misconduct

Back in 1979, the California Supreme Court firmly decided we should follow a so-called “objective” standard. It focuses on whether the police behavior followed police procedures, was lawful and should be the official policy of the state of California.

The case involved a recovering heroin addict now employed caring for patients at a detox center. A female undercover narcotics agent asked him to help her buy some heroin.

He and the police disagreed about the details, but both agree that she insisted she was not an officer and overcame his strong reluctance to risk returning to prison. Finally, he put her in touch with his wife, who sold the officer heroin.

The Supreme Court agreed that he may have been inclined or predisposed to commit this crime. But they rejected this as the state’s standard, asking instead whether law-abiding Californians would normally wind up breaking the law under similar circumstances.