Social Media and the Risk of Entrapment
Recently the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department has come under fire by the public for their attempts at using both humor and the far reach of social media to accomplish their goals of public safety. Through their Facebook page, the Department posted the following language: “Anyone in Wilkes-Barre know where we could buy any drugs? (Asking for a friend) Hit us up at (570) 760-0215 #NotACop 326”. What followed was an unexpected barrage of “reactions”, “likes”, and detailed comments reflecting a mixed reception by the public. Those in support of the Department applaud their attempts to remain current and actively use the potential of social media in pursuit of their goals. Those on the opposition, find the posting to be ill-humored and identify it as entrapment.
Under Pennsylvania law, entrapment occurs when a public law enforcement official, or a person acting in cooperation with such an official, induces or encourages another person to engage in conduct constituting an offense for the purpose of obtaining evidence of the commission of such an offense. If an individual is able to prove that his or her conduct was in response to entrapment, then he or she could be acquitted of that offense. This inducement can occur in either of two ways: (1) by making knowingly false representations designed to induce a believe that such conduct is not prohibited; or (2) employing methods of persuasion/inducement that creates a substantial risk that such an offense will be committed by persons other than those who are ready to commit it.
In evaluating an entrapment claim, the chief issue is whether the party’s conduct would have induced an innocent person to commit a crime. By merely affording opportunity through pretense and maneuvers for the commission of an offense by a person who already had the requisite criminal intent does not rise to the level of entrapment.
With regard to the police department’s actions above, even interpreted in the worst sense, the posting does not appear to rise to entrapment. However, with more and more law enforcement agencies using social media as a means to communicate with the public, the claim of entrapment is a possibility.
Attorney Sarah K. Hart is a litigation associate who counsels individuals in criminal matters and has extensive experience interviewing and working with police officers as a former ADA in Berks and Lebanon Counties.