Utah Prostitution Stings – Catching Culprits of Opportunity or Entrapment

Although paying or receiving funds for sexual activity is against the law, many wonder if Johns arrested during prostitution stings in Utah are culprits of opportunity or victims of entrapment.

Catching one of their own

Photo by: dalius kniukšta

A prostitution sting on Valentine’s Day netted the arrest of 51 year old David Moss of Lehi, Utah. Undercover detectives with the Utah County Special Victims Task Force arrested Moss, who was a former police officer with the St. George Police Department after he responded to a prostitution ad online and met two undercover female detectives posing as prostitutes. Moss’s arrest came after he made several incriminating statements online and in person including offers to “manage” the prostitutes and hide their activity from police. He also followed these comments with inappropriate behavior directed at one of the undercover officers.

Patronizing a prostitute

Moss was arrested for multiple charges including patronizing a prostitute which is described by section 76-10-1303 as “when the individual:
(a) Pays or offers or agrees to pay a prostitute, or an individual the actor believes to be a prostitute, a fee, or the functional equivalent of a fee, for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual activity; or
(b) Enters or remains in a place of prostitution for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.”

Pimps vs Johns

Moss is also facing charges of exploiting prostitution, a third degree felony compared to patronizing a prostitute which is punishable as a class A misdemeanor for a first defense. While patronizing a prostitute is the typical charge for “Johns”, exploiting prostitution would be the charge for the “pimps” or those wishing to recruit or manage others in prostitution. Third degree exploiting prostitution is defined by Utah Code 76-10-1305 as when “an individual:
(a) Procures an individual for a place of prostitution;
(b) Encourages, induces, or otherwise purposely causes another to become or remain a prostitute;
(c) Transports an individual into or within this state with a purpose to promote that individual’s engaging in prostitution or procuring or paying for transportation with that purpose;
(d) Not being a child or legal dependent of a prostitute, shares the proceeds of prostitution with a prostitute, or an individual the actor believes to be a prostitute, pursuant to their understanding that the actor is to share therein; or
(e) Owns controls, manages, supervised, or otherwise keeps, alone or in association with another, a place of prostitution or a business where prostitution occurs or is arranged, encouraged, supported, or promoted.”

Gray area

Photo by: pattchattack

Since Moss came prepared with an illegal business plan, it is hard to say he didn’t know what he was getting into unless his inappropriate business endeavor was all a ruse to impress the ladies. Regardless, his actions will be making a lasting impression; a negative one when he faces a judge in court. While Moss’s case could paint a pretty clear picture of how horrible his remarks and behavior was – he was not the one placing the ad; he was merely responding to it. If the ad hadn’t been there, would he have still made the illegal choices that he did? This is a common question that comes up following prostitution stings. Are stings a way to catch criminals or are they a non-biased trap to catch anyone who may happen by? Some otherwise innocent individuals caught in the frequent prostitution stings throughout the state often fall into a gray area where you wonder if they had actually planned to commit a crime or just reacted to a setting they were placed in. This gray area where one may question someone’s criminal intentions that often occurs with stings can be known as entrapment.

Opportunity or entrapment

Entrapment is defined Utah Code 76-2-303 as “. . . when a peace officer or a person directed by or acting in cooperation with the officer induces the commission of an offense in order to obtain evidence of the commission for prosecution by methods creating a substantial risk that the offense would be committed by one not otherwise ready to commit it.” While many arrested during prostitution stings may have been “. . . merely afford[ed] . . . an opportunity to commit an offense”, there is always a concern others were arrested solely based on the enticement of the officers. Anyone facing charges following a prostitution sting whether or not they may have been the victim of entrapment are encouraged to seek legal counsel immediately.

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.