Police Entrapment

There’s a thin line between police setting up a legitimate bust to catch a criminal and entrapment. Entrapment is defined as: “the action of luring an individual into committing a crime in order to prosecute the person for it.”

Photo by: Alan Reeves

Photo by: Alan Reeves

Of one’s own accord

Police will regularly use tactics to catch criminals red-handed by providing opportunities for lawbreakers to commit a crime. However, oftentimes these tactics are considered entrapment when officers create a crime and lure others to fall victim to it. When law enforcement officers send in an undercover agent to buy drugs from a known dealer and the suspect receives the funds and pulls the goods from his coat pocket, it is likely that a crime probably would’ve been committed eventually without the law’s involvement. If the undercover officer hands money to a random citizen, asking them to go find locate drugs and the citizen completes the request, this could be a case of entrapment. If without the police’s coaxing the suspect (or victim) would not have committed a crime, then entrapment laws may apply.

Preying on human desires

One confusing area of entrapment is prostitution. Physical intimacy is a human, carnal desire. When someone intentionally seeks a way to fill this desire by paying another human, it is illegal. As long as the suspect is the one to initiate the quest to fulfill their sexual yearnings by either looking for someone working a corner or calling an ad on Craigslist, they are guilty. It may be considered entrapment though for an attractive undercover agent to prey on a lonely chap sitting alone at the bar, lead him back to a room where he is informed directly before the intimate moment that it isn’t free. Had the agent left the man alone in the company of his drink, chances are that he wouldn’t have gone looking for an expensive one night stand.

Entrapment or just fooled

So what constitutes entrapment and what is just bad luck for a would-be criminal? A few reasons that may be considered entrapment are when:

• There is no way the crime would have taken place without police’s involvement.

• An innocent, law abiding citizen was coerced by police into committing a crime they would normally not have done.

• Law enforcement officials use threats of harm to blackmail someone to do something illegal.

• Police repeatedly ask someone to commit a crime that they originally denied wanting involvement in.

If someone unknowingly offers law enforcement official drugs, or otherwise commits a crime willingly in front of undercover agents without inducement, they may have been fooled, yet it is perfectly legal.

Benefits of non-entrapment situations

Very often, stings are set up to catch criminals who are already in the act of committing a crime, or who would be very soon. When police are certain without a shadow of a doubt that a crime will be committed, it can be beneficial to be in a position to catch the guilty parties. This can lessen the aftermath that would be had they let the criminal follow through with their wrongdoing. This can protect innocent bystanders from falling victim to the crime taking place. Unfortunately, law officers don’t have to be certain or even have a hunch of a potential crime to set up a sting operation. As long as they refrain from forcing an individual from falling into their trap, it is not considered entrapment.

Entrapment Defense

Although entrapment does happen, it is often difficult to prove. Even if you may have been induced into committing a crime, if you are proven to be predisposed for that type of a crime, the judge may rule in the prosecutions favor. A criminal defense attorney can enlighten you as to your rights if you feel you’re the victim of entrapment and help to ensure a solid defense.

Assets Seized by Police

We look to our local and state police force to protect our things from burglars and vandals but what about when our assets are being seized by the police themselves? State and federal laws not only condone seizing of assets by our local law enforcement agency, they encourage it.

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Criminal Asset Forfeiture

When a crime has been committed, any belongings of the criminal that were used or obtained in the crime such as; cash, vehicle, phone, and home can be rightfully confiscated. Not only do these appropriated items help investigators learn details about their cases, they also help their budget. These assets that were seized by police because of an actual crime committed by the owner are known as criminal asset forfeitures. These assets go into the police department’s funding to pay for whatever that department needs.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Unfortunately, law enforcement officials have become greedy, commandeering what they please even if no laws have been broken. Assets can be seized on nothing more than a hunch that the items have a connection with a crime. According to a study done by the Cato Institute, 80 percent of individuals that have had their assets seized never end up being charged with crimes. This cruel and unjust act is known as civil asset forfeiture. When assets are seized by police without proof of any crime by the owner of the property, the charge is placed against the asset itself, not the owner of the asset. This makes it a civil case versus a criminal case. The rules for each are very different, and civil cases against objects are easier for police to come out ahead with at least a percentage of the asset to fill their pocketbook.

Guilty until proven innocent

During civil asset forfeiture, the owners of the assets are free to go if they have no charges against them. However, if the owner would like their assets returned, all they have to do is challenge the seizure and prove the item’s innocence. (No your Honor, my car couldn’t have been making a drug deal, it was taking my kids to soccer practice. I have witnesses proving its location during that time.) Sounds easy, but regaining possession of assets are difficult for some to accomplish. Civil asset forfeiture cases tend to target minorities, those that aren’t fluent in English, or those in lower income brackets. These individuals can be at a disadvantage in civil asset forfeiture cases because they may lack understanding of their rights and may be unable to communicate with law enforcement effectively. They also may not be able to afford taking off work to pursue regaining possession of their assets, so they simple give up.

Mostly legal

Civil asset forfeiture was originally beneficial for shipping issues as taking possession of a ship was easier than tracking down the owner from another country in case of any problems. It also came in handy during the 1980’s war on drugs. It functioned as a deterrent for drug cartel by taking anything they might have acquired because of their illegal operations. A special bonus of this was that those assets seized by police were divided between different law agencies. This bonus is what has kept civil asset forfeiture so popular among our police force. Of course, there has to be some guidelines. As stated above, the owners of the assets are allowed to prove the belonging’s innocence. Also, the value of the asset shouldn’t be too expensive. Seizing a house is a lot harder than a $500 used car or pocket cash.

Know your rights, don’t be a victim

Most victims of civil asset forfeiture never challenge the seizure. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as asking for your stuff back. Not knowing your rights or how to properly defend yourself can cause you to lose your assets permanently. If you or your assets have been charged with a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney to defend you and make sure that your belongings don’t become the property of the police department.

Brooklyn DA Reviews Dozens of Wrongful Conviction Cases

Brooklyn DA reviews wrongful conviction cases

Photo: Joi Ito/Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of January, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson stated that he is seeking to vacate the wrongful conviction of a man who served 20 years in prison for a 1991 murder. However, this isn’t the first wrongful conviction the new DA is seeking to vacate. It is simply the next in a line of cases that Thompson has been examining since his election in 2013. Many of these cases are being linked to a retired New York Police Department detective who has been accused of several indiscretions.

According to a report from the Daily News, Thompson was quoted as saying, “Correcting miscarriages of justice is very important. Having men in prison for murders they did not commit is not justice.”

The Release of Derrick Hamilton

The most recent case to make the news regarding a wrongful conviction involves Derrick Hamilton. In 1991, Hamilton was convicted of shooting Nathaniel Cash in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Even though Hamilton argued that he was actually in another state when the shooting occurred, one of the prosecution’s witnesses—Cash’s girlfriend, Jewel Smith—testified that Hamilton was the shooter. This testimony has since been questioned, partially at the request of Smith herself.

In 1991, Smith claimed that Cash was shot from the front, however, forensic evidence showed that he was actually shot from behind. Hamilton was sentenced to 25 years for the murder, but he maintained his innocence almost 20 years, even refusing to apologize before a parole board for “his” actions.

In 2011 Smith recanted her testimony and has since lobbied for Hamilton’s release. Hamilton was granted early release that same year, and as far as Hamilton is concerned, the recent exoneration by the Brooklyn DA has closed the door on that part of his past.

“I feel vindicated,” Hamilton told the Daily News. “It’s like a rebirth. I’m a new guy. I can live my life in happiness.”

A Pattern of Wrongful Conviction Cases

Besides the mismatch of forensic evidence, one issue that was brought up regarding the wrongful conviction of Derrick Hamilton is the alleged improprieties carried out by former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella. In the case of Hamilton, Scarcella allegedly coerced a witness in the case.

This isn’t the first such accusation. When this story first broke in May of 2013, the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal reported that then-District Attorney Charles J. Hynes was looking into at least 50 homicide cases that may have involved a wrongful conviction. When Kenneth P. Thompson was elected the new Brooklyn DA, he stated at a news conference that he had “inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful conviction cases.”

As of this month, it is reported that the DA’s office is currently reviewing approximately 100 cases. The determination in the case of Derrick Hamilton was actually the 11th such exoneration of someone wrongfully convicted since Thompson was elected in 2013, two of which were exonerated posthumously.

The alleged misconduct by Scarcella first came to light in March of 2013 as the result of an internal investigation by the district attorney’s office. Scarcella, who was a homicide detective for 26 years and directed or assisted approximately 350 homicide investigations, was accused of multiple improprieties potentially resulting in several cases of wrongful conviction.

Allegedly, he directed witnesses—many of whom were already serving jail time—as to who to pick out in police lineups and used the same witness in six separate cases, a person who was addicted to crack cocaine. In addition, Scarcella allegedly rewarded some of these witnesses who were already serving time by letting them out of jail to visit prostitutes.

Scarcella has maintained his innocence, saying in 2013 that he couldn’t remember many details of the cases in question and even going so far as to say he would help investigators go over his convictions.

Time is definitely an issue. Even though both the former and current Brooklyn DA have said they want to move quickly to get any people out of prison who were victims of a wrongful conviction, the process is a lengthy one.

In a New York Times article, wrongful conviction lawyer Joel Rudin was quoted as saying, “Do you know how long it takes to read a 1,000 or 2,000-page transcript? It takes hundreds of hours to fully investigate an old conviction. It’s a huge undertaking.”

In addition to going through the paperwork, investigators also need to often locate witnesses—a daunting task in the case of the alleged crack-addict witness—and then get said witnesses to admit they lied under oath. In some cases, investigators need to reconcile why certain convicts tell parole boards they are sorry for committing a crime they didn’t actually commit, something Derrick Hamilton adamantly refused to do. While the motivation behind this action would seem to be an attempt by an innocent person to get out of prison sooner, it’s still another hurdle investigators have to overcome.

For Brooklyn DA Thompson, it’s one more task he is willing to undertake in the name of justice.