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 the suspect.
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.