Last summer, Lincoln Police set up a sting operation at a hotel in Lincoln,
Nebraska. The operation was set up with a website known as backpage.com.
Individuals seeking services on backpage would locate a fake page offering
“full service” and provided a phone number. Individuals who
contacted them were lured by a police to a hotel.
Once the individuals arrived at the hotel, there was a female inside the
room. She would request payment and ask that the money be placed next
to a bowl of condoms. After the money was placed next to the bowl of condoms,
the female exited into a restroom and police entered to arrest and interrogate
This operation appears to be very similar to the solicitation of prostitution
sting operation from earlier this year.
Soliciting a prostitute in Lincoln, Nebraska carries with it a term of
up to a year in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. If a person is convicted of
a second offense, they may be charged with a felony and face up to five
years in prison and up to a $10,000.00 fine.
Sting operations get a lot of publicity and generally a citizen accused
is mentioned in newspapers, websites and sometimes evening news on television.
People often ask if these sting operations are a form of police entrapment.
The short answer is that under some circumstances they could be.
In a United States Supreme Court case near Madison, Nebraska, federal agents
sent an individual pornographic advertising materials in the mail for
several months before the individual attempted to subscribe to an illegal
pornography service. The United States Supreme Court found that the government’s
actions were entrapment. Continually mailing an individual information
and trying to get him to sign up for an illegal service was clearly a
solicitation by the government. Without the solicitation by the government
there was no evidence to show that the defendant in that case had the
propensity to commit any crime.
Technology has made information and services so easily available that successful
entrapment defenses are rare. The backpage.com sting operations are different
in that the individual who finds the advertisement for sex on backpage
takes the initiative to contact the government agent that the defendant
may likely believe is a prostitute. It is difficult to argue entrapment
by a person who searched a webpage and called a phone number or sent a
text message without a personal invitation.
Often, the government finds difficulty in proving these internet prostitution
solicitations because they bear the burden of actually proving the intent
of the accused. It seems that sometimes law enforcement works hard to
avoid entrapment and does not necessarily discuss the nature of the service
with the individual, but rather hopes that after the arrest is made, the
individual will confess and explain why he was in the hotel and what services
he hoped to purchase.
Put simply, these cases can be defended either because the government may
fail to prove intent or, in some rare cases where the government initiated
communication, there may be entrapment.