Baiting by Police is Common,Unethical and Harmful to Society

By Leyland  A. King
Monday, July 30, 2016

Nothing impeded traffic-flow on I-4 East bound just after sunset, that late summer’s  Friday. Irving Welles, age twenty-four, college grad, was headed home after work, thinking ordinary thoughts in the midst of routine driving. His family was awaiting his arrival for dinner.  Had there been a traffic back-up, even for twenty minutes, this night might not have been lamentable for Irving. His exit through the off-ramp would have been as mundane as his stop at the traffic red-light, which he had done so often. But this time, his pause was consequential.

The young woman, loitering at the corner was alluring. What would be described as pacing for most women did not seem so. For her, it was more of a strut. Irving could not believe that she smiled, beckoned him to turn the corner,  and soon made a sexual come-on with her mouth. The red lipstick should have warned him just as the traffic light’s red told of danger. The woman approached his car, leaned into the window frame and a chat began. When she suggested what she would for him, he found the talk arousing and liked that. Irving played along, knowing the fantasy would never get real because two dollars and sixty-eight cents was all that he had. Somewhere in the web of chitchat, he might have given the wrong answer, for he could deduce no other reason why he was swarmed by four men who identified themselves as police officers, arrested and whisked him off to jail. Thus began his distress and calamitous social tumble.

His car towed, Irving spent the night in jail, appeared at court the next day and was able to obtain bond through the assistance of relatives. Distraught;  confused; unprepared; he accepted an attorney’s proffered card. Had Irving been an experienced criminal, a product of experience acquired in the criminal justice system, he would not have been so trusting of people purporting to represent his interest. People who facilitate  the court’s conveyor-belt’s smooth operation. Some players well-practiced in manipulation of gullible defendants.

On his counsel’s advice, Irving pleaded no contest, paid initial costs and was put on program that, if completed, reduced fines. He did all that was required. But no one told him about the most damning consequence, that is, the permanent criminal record created. He was shocked when, on the basis of that record of soliciting a lewd act, he was fired from his government career. Thereafter, every time he was honest on his job application, the red lips disallowed him. Soon, he figured that concealing his arrest would get him past the gate keepers. It did, but as certain as day follows night, three to five weeks later, came the familiar summon and  firing. Due to Right to Work State Law, Irving was neither owed nor given a reason for severance .

When last fired he expressed to a kindly manager how relieved he felt that he had been found out. He said that every day of the month that he came in to work, he dreaded discovery. This was also the first time that anyone told him that he might apply to have his criminal record expunged. Sensing a sympathetic ear, he divulged the details of that fateful evening.

It is unknown what became of Irving, but what happened to him, a youth with a previously spotless record, is instructive as to the ethics of police baiting practices.

Our criminal law interprets police behavior of the kind, as entrapment. It asks  the question: ‘Would the defendant have committed the crime without enticement’? Yet, the police knowingly do that with impunity.  Citizens of more vulnerable classes are most impacted, most arrested (in spite of police discretion to use citations) and most abused of their rights, once they enter the court system. The financial hardship and emotional distress brought on innocent families are incalculable. No one seems to care about the fact that something so simple devastates innocent dependents. Nor is thought given to the cost to taxpayers in training another person to replace Irving every time he is fired.
Clarence Darrow, author of Crime: Its Cause and Treatment seriously criticized the perpetual hounding by the system.

Ethical questions might be framed in many different ways for every person or agency that contributed to Irving’s tribulations. When attempting to answer questions of ethical dilemmas, philosophers simplify resolution by looking to the law and social mores. In this case did Irving, of his own volition set out to commit a crime? Emphatically, no! There was no action that he initiated.
Did the overt actions of the decoy cause Irving’s travail? Absolutely! And we shall revisit this later on.
Florida Law as to entrapment, cited herein is unambiguous:

777.201 Entrapment
(1) A law enforcement officer, a person engaged in cooperation with a law enforcement officer, or a person acting as an agent of a law enforcement officer perpetrates an entrapment if, for the purpose of obtaining evidence of the commission of a crime, he or she induces or encourages and, as a direct result, causes another person(2) A person prosecuted for a crime shall be acquitted if the person proves by a preponderance of the evidence that his or her criminal conduct occurred as a result of an entrapment. The issue of entrapment shall be tried by the Trier of fact.
History.—s. 42, ch. 87-243; s. 1196, ch. 97-102.

Of course there are case laws that emerged through challenges. Those intricacies, I defer to legal professionals, but as to the ethics of police conduct of ensnaring innocent persons, as Irvin’s life altering experience shows, there is no ethical dilemma. In deciding the issue of entrapment courts use either ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’ tests. The former focuses on the defendant’s state of mind, his personality and his predisposition to commit a crime. In more progressive and popular examination, objective test, the focus is on police conduct. The question is, whether the police actions would induce a law-abiding individual to criminal behavior. Is the trap for the unwary innocent or the unwary criminal.

Reference  similar actions where a few hapless, some of them homeless, people were unjustly netted.  A team of several police officers leaned an unlocked bicycle beside the pavement, near a bus stop. An open ladies’ handbag with exposed cash hung from the handle. How convenient? How irresistible? How immoral! To tempt anyone, especially that poorer, needy population, is wrong! Creating crimes is not the mission of the police nor the state.

Some may counter that police have to do as they did, to maintain public order and decency; that prostitution harms the serenity of communities by attracting more serious crimes to the area.
That is not true. Sex purveyors tend to follow potential business and fulfill needs. They don’t lead.  Most sale of sex do not take place on street corners. But even if it were so, as police allege, the desired result might be attained by maintaining an uniformed presence in the affected pockets of licentious activity. The agency’s core duties are maintenance of public order, prevention and detection of crime. Not sweeping up the innocent along with the guilty on specious pretensions.

The problem before us seems to be management failure by the police, both in resource allocation and maintaining the agency’s  mission focus. Luring the citizen to do what, ordinarily, he would not have done, impugns the integrity of the organization and deleterious in affect to stakeholder trust.
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Compounding the concern as to the outcome for citizens, is what appears to be a systemic indifference by officers of the court. It has to be said, that they have a duty to the state and citizenry, to reject a plea bargain where on the face of it the prosecutor, or the judge, sees that the defendant is not fully informed or that there seems to be unjust circumstances of the arrest.

Two examples have been presented for the readers’ consideration. It is hoped that they are sufficiently persuasive for the reader to seek more information on the issue. Awareness of improper police behavior, and for whatever reason allowing its continuance, is also unethical. Knowing of the outcomes for citizens and still continue inaction is egregiously unethical and immoral. We must do better.

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