AskDefine | Define entrapment

Dictionary Definition

entrapment n : a defense that claims the defendant would not have broken the law if not tricked into doing it by law enforcement officials

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The state of being entrapped.
    The entrapment of the victims in the wreckage made rescue difficult.
  2. Action by law enforcement personnel to lead an otherwise innocent person to commit a crime, in order to arrest and prosecute that person for the crime.
    A detective asking you to buy marijuana for a dying man would be police entrapment.
  3. A method of isolating specific cells or molecules from a mixture, especially by immobilization on a gel.


method of isolating cells or molecules
  • Korean: 포집

Extensive Definition

Entrapment is the act of a law enforcement agent in inducing a person to commit an offence which the person would not have, or was unlikely to have, otherwise committed.

United States

The entrapment defense in the United States has evolved mainly through case law. Two competing tests exist for determining whether entrapment has taken place, known as the "subjective" and "objective" tests.
Courts took a dim view of the defense at first. "[It] has never availed to shield crime or give indemnity to the culprit, and it is safe to say that under any code of civilized, not to say Christian, ethics, it never will" a New York Supreme Court said in 1864. Forty years later, another judge in that state would affirm that rejection, arguing "[courts] should not hesitate to punish the crime actually committed by the defendant" when rejecting entrapment claimed in a grand larceny case.
Other states, however, had already begun reversing convictions on entrapment grounds Federal courts recognized entrapment as a defense starting with Woo Wai v. United States (223 F 412 (9th Circuit 1915)). The U.S. Supreme Court first declined to consider the question of entrapment in Casey v. United States (), since the facts in the case were too vague to definitively rule on the question. Four years later, it did and in Sorrells v. United States () unanimously reversed the conviction of a North Carolina factory worker who gave in to an undercover Prohibition officer's repeated entreaties to get him some liquor. It identified the controlling question as "whether the defendant is a person otherwise innocent whom the government is seeking to punish for an alleged offense which is the product of the creative activity of its own officials".
In Sherman v. United States (), the Court considered a similar case in which one recovering drug addict working with federal agents from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (a predecessor agency to today's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)) solicited another to sell him drugs on the premise that his own efforts were failing. Again unanimous, its opinion focused more clearly on the defendant's predisposition to commit the offense, and on that basis overturned Sherman's conviction as well, since although he had two prior drug convictions, the most recent dated back five years. He was also attempting to rehabilitate himself, had made no profit on the sales and no drugs were found in his apartment when it was searched, suggesting the absence of a predisposition to break drug laws. "To determine whether entrapment has been established," it said, "a line must be drawn between the trap for the unwary innocent and the trap for the unwary criminal".
Prosecutors won the next two times entrapment came before the Court, in United States v. Russell () and Hampton v. United States (), albeit by narrow margins. In the former, the Court upheld the conviction of a Washington man for manufacturing methamphetamine even though an undercover agent had supplied some of the ingredients, and also pondered an "outrageous government conduct" defense, though it did not enable it. Hampton let stand, by a similar margin, the conviction of a Missouri man who had, upon seeing track marks on a DEA informant's arms, expressed interest in selling him heroin. After several sales to the informant and undercover agents, he was arrested. The defendant alleged he had been led to believe by the informant that he was not selling heroin but a counterfeit. The Court found he was adequately predisposed to sell heroin in any event.
This became known as the "subjective" test of entrapment, since it focused on the defendant's state of mind. However, in all cases, concurring opinions had advocated an "objective" test, focusing instead on whether the conduct of the police or other investigators would catch only those "ready and willing to commit crime." Under the objective approach the defendant's personality (i.e., his predisposition to commit the crime) would be immaterial, and the potential for the police conduct to induce a law-abiding person considered in the abstract would be the test. This, supporters argued, avoided the dubious issue of an unexpressed legislative intent on which the Sorrells court had relied and instead grounded the entrapment defense, like the exclusionary rule, in the court's supervisory role over law enforcement. And like the exclusionary rule, they would have had judges, not juries, decide whether a defendant had been entrapped as a matter of law.
Since the subjective test focusing on predisposition had, unlike the exclusionary rule, not been applied to the states, they were free to follow it as they saw fit. The state courts or legislatures of 37 states have chosen the subjective test, while the others use the objective test. Some have allowed both the judge and the jury to rule on whether the defendant was entrapped.

Entrapment by Estoppel

A subset of the entrapment defense was first recognized by the Supreme Court in Raley v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 423 (1959). There, four defendants were testifying before a committee of the Ohio State Legislature. The chairman of the committee told them that they could assert their right against self-incrimination. They asserted this right, and refused to answer questions. However, Ohio law provided them immunity from prosecution, so the right against self-incrimination was inapplicable, and they were subsequently prosecuted for their failure to answer questions. The Supreme Court overturned three of the four convictions based on the doctrine of entrapment by estoppel.
The defense "applies when, acting with actual or apparent authority, a government official affirmatively assures the defendant that certain conduct is legal and the defendant reasonably believes that official." United States v. Howell, 37 F.3d 1197, 1204 (1994).


The Supreme Court of Canada developed the Canadian version of the doctrine of entrapment in three major decisions: R. v. Amato, [1982] 2 S.C.R. 418, R. v. Mack, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 903, and R. v. Barnes, [1991] 1 S.C.R. 449. There are two different forms of entrapment in Canadian law.
The first type of entrapment, "random virtue testing", occurs when the police offer an individual the opportunity to commit a crime without reasonable suspicion that either that individual, or the place where that individual is located, is associated with the criminal activity under investigation.
If police do have such a reasonable suspicion, they are still limited to providing only an opportunity to commit the offence. The second form of entrapment occurs when the police go beyond merely providing an opportunity to commit an offence, and instead actually induce the commission of the offence. Some factors a court may consider when deciding whether police have induced the offence include the type of crime being investigated, whether an average person would have been induced, the persistence and number of attempts made by the police, the type of inducement used (e.g. fraud, deceit, reward), and the existence of express or implied threats.
The question of entrapment is only considered after there has been a finding of guilt. If, after finding the accused guilty, the court determines that the accused was entrapped, the court will enter a judicial stay of proceedings. In effect, this is similar to an acquittal.


Entrapment arises when a criminal is encouraged by someone in some official capacity to commit a crime. If entrapment occurred, then some prosecution evidence may be excluded as being unfair, or the proceedings may be discontinued altogther.
Some examples of entrapment are as follows:- (1) A police officer encourages a person to commit a crime so that the officer can have him prosecuted for that crime. (2) The greater the degree of entrapment by the police officer, the more likely the court will see it as entrapment. See the case (R v Bryne[2003]). That is, entrapment is not a substantive defence (R v Sang); i.e. it does not automatically negate the prosecution case. (3) Customs Officers who aid and abet fraud in order to prosecute the fraud. A notorious example of this occurred in 2003. The 'Stockade' prosecution ended in failure when the Court of Appeal quashed convictions against seven people accused in connection with the alleged diversion of £105 million in excise duty (VAT). The conduct of such Excise diversion cases resulted in the loss of up to £2 billion in public revenue.
If a person has committed an offense because of entrapment, the Court may stay the proceedings under its inherent jurisdiction to prevent abuses of process (which prevents the case going ahead) or exclude evidence under section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The grant of a stay is normally the most appropriate response.
The main authority on entrapment in the United Kingdom is the decision of the House of Lords in R. v. Loosely; Attorney-General's Reference (n.3 of 2000). A grant of a stay is awarded if the conduct of the state was so seriously improper that the administration of justice was brought into disrepute. In deciding whether to grant a stay, the Court will consider, as a useful guide, whether the police did more than present the defendant with an unexceptional opportunity to commit a crime.
In Loosely, Lords Hoffman and Hutton indicated certain factors that should be considered in deciding whether proceedings against a defendant should be stayed. These include:
  • whether the police acted in good faith;
  • whether the police had good reason to suspect the accused of criminal activities;
  • whether the police suspected that crime was particularly prevalent in the area in which the investigation took place (Williams v. DPP);
  • whether pro-active investigatory techniques were necessary because of the secrecy and difficulty of detection of the criminal activity in question;
  • the defendant's circumstances and vulnerability; and
  • the nature of the offence.
It has been held that it is generally acceptable for the police to conduct test purchases (DPP v. Marshall) or pose as passengers to catch unlicensed taxi drivers (Nottingham City Council v. Amin).


In Scotland the main authority is the case of Browns v. HMA which stated that entrapment will occur when law enforcement officials cause an offence to be committed which would not have occurred had it not been for their involvement. The remedies available correspond with those in England and are considered to be either a plea in bar of trial or a challenge to the admissibility of evidence obtained through entrapment.


In German law, it is normally forbidden (§ 26 StGB) to induce or persuade someone to commit a crime, or to attempt to do so (§ 30 StGB, in German). However, the German Federal Court Of Justice has held that entrapment by undercover police agents is not a reason to stay the case per se (e.g. GA 1975, 333, 334). If undercover agents have been used without proper justification, punishment for the committed offence may be reduced (1st Senate's decision in 1 StR 148/84 - 23rd of May, 1984).
  • In the case of persons who are not initially under suspicion and unlikely to commit a certain crime, a decision from 1999 (18th of November, BGH 1 StR 221/99, in German) stated that entrapment of such persons violates the right to a fair trial (and therefore the punishment for the committed offence may be reduced).


Further reading

  • Gerald Dworkin, "Entrapment and the Creation of Crime," in Controversies in Criminal Law: Philosophical Essays on Responsibility and Procedure (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 220-231.
  • Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Controversies in Criminal Law: Philosophical Essays on Responsibility and Procedure (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), 273pp.
entrapment in Korean: 함정수사
entrapment in Norwegian: Politiprovokasjon
entrapment in Polish: Prowokacja
entrapment in Swedish: Brottsprovokation

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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