Commentary | COUNTERPOINT: Entrapment harms our society and violates our rights

A ccepting the premise that entrapment would represent an expansion of the powers that the police currently hold to stop criminals, the question then becomes whether or not this change is necessary. What also needs to be considered is how such decisions are typically made, and what is most important in decision-making: the rights of the individual or the effectiveness of our police forces.

As soon as you allow the police to begin actively persuading people to commit crimes, there is a potential for abuse – whether in the level or type of persuasion being used, or simply because certain groups would find themselves unfairly targeted. The fact of the matter remains that entrapment could result in the arrest and prosecution of individuals who would not have committed crimes unless provided the opportunity to do so by law enforcement. Typically in justice systems where innocence is presumed, laws tend to favour the individual, rather than aiming for a higher chance of conviction. Accepting this, entrapment should not exist, in the sense that there might be innocent people who have been unfairly brought into a situation where they might commit a crime.

Even in a situation where the harms of entrapment are limited to a minimum, everybody should feel uncomfortable having a police force that creates crimes in order for people to be caught committing them. If the argument is that the person who gets caught would have committed a crime anyway, then the police should watch them until they are actually caught doing something illegal.

Surveillance of suspected criminals has worked very well in the past, and in this case they are actually caught, independent of police involvement. There is really no need to expand police powers by allowing them to mislead individuals, since the current mechanisms are effective. Furthermore, there is a severe problem with a society that presumes that everybody is innocent, yet exposes everybody to perpetual checks on their honesty. The presumption then becomes that everybody would commit a crime if provided the opportunity. Honest people should not be exposed to constant government checks on their law-abiding status if they have committed no crime.

The question that must be dealt with why it is any different when a private citizen offers another private citizen the opportunity to commit a crime. The response is simply that in the case that no police officer is involved, both private citizens are guilty of a crime, and the crime originated organically. In the case that a police officer offers to sell drugs with a private individual, for example, only the private individual is guilty of a crime.

When a police officer isn’t involved, entrapment is not a possible defense; when an officer is involved, all of a sudden it becomes one possible defense. In a sense, we are allowing the police to create additional crime in order to stop people whose status as criminals we are unsure of. This seems unfair: the police should focus their efforts on stopping actual crimes, rather than submitting citizens to random honesty checks.

Carol St-Gelais is a U2 English student. Write him at carol.st-gelais@mail.mcgill.ca.


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