California East Bay sees spike in police stings, but are they legal?

Authorities are always finding new ways to crack down on individuals involved in sex crimes. In the past, police hit the streets to nab suspects; today they use the internet to target individuals soliciting sex in exchange for money. Popular procedures authorities use today are referred to as online sting operations.

Understanding sting operations

Essentially, a sting operation is a deceptive procedure authorities utilize to catch a person committing a crime. Typically, a law enforcement officer, informant, or member of the public will play a part in the criminal event.

For online sting operations that target prostitution-related offenses, authorities will pose as a person advertising sex in an online ad in exchange for money. Authorities will then attempt to lure in any person who responds to the ad. When they meet in person, police arrest the individual.

The popular television show "To Catch a Predator" that aired from 2004-2007 is an example of a type of sting operation. Impersonators from the program enticed male adults who sought sexual favors online to meet in person. A hidden camera was typically set up to record the unfolding events as producers confronted the men.

Sting operations today

Today, online sting operations are still prevalent. Last month, the Boston Police Human Trafficking Unit in Massachusetts arrested several men in the area for soliciting sex online for money. Another sting operation in Polk County, Florida, resulted in the arrest of several individuals who responded to fake online prostitution ads. The East Bay area of California has also seen its share of online prostitution police stings that have resulted in arrests.

But are all of these sting operations legal?

Entrapment

In most incidences sting operations are legal, but sometimes authorities cross the line and venture into the realm of entrapment-a police procedure often depicted in blockbuster movies.

In general terms, entrapment happens when the police persuade a person to commit a crime that he or she would not have been likely to commit otherwise.

For example, an act is not likely to be considered entrapment if an individual responds to an online ad that says "hot sex for $500 an hour." Alternately, a police act could be construed as entrapment if, for instance, authorities send an email to a specific person with a message that requests the individual's presence at a motel for a "fun time."

The difference between the two lies in the wording of the advertisement.

If an act is classified as entrapment, it could be a successful affirmative defense to a sex crime. However, it will all depend on the jurisdiction and the circumstances.

Individuals facing criminal charges stemming from a sting operation should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can explain the law in detail as it pertains to specific instances.