How Undercover Sex Sting Operations Catch Predators


A sting operation is, essentially, a deceptive operation, put into place by law enforcement, with a goal of nabbing a criminal. It is an undercover investigation where law enforcement personnel pretend to be someone else—if the goal is to catch a drug buyer, then law enforcement may pretend to be a drug trafficker or if the goal is to catch a sexual predator, then law enforcement will pretend to be a minor.

Sting operations are attractive to law enforcement because they often net positive publicity and impressive short-term results with relatively little work and time on the part of law enforcement.

Sting operations generally include the following:

  • An enticement for another person to commit a crime
  • A targeted offender or group
  • Undercover police officers
  • Some type of deception
  • A climax to the sting operation which typically ends in an arrest (also known as the “gotcha” moment, which tends to impress juries).

What Does a Sexual Predator Look Like?

In this day and age, the person arrested for being a sexual “predator” is hardly the stereotype of the guy in the raincoat who lurks around schools and parks, giving candy to children, and seeking to lure them to his home. Rather the person arrested and charged as a sexual predator is likely to look like your co-worker, your next-door-neighbor, your brother-in-law. Consider the following statistics regarding the “typical” offender in an Internet undercover sex sting operation.

The average defendant in an Internet sex sting is male (99 percent), white (92 percent) and is most often older than 25 (86 percent). Less than ten percent of those arrested in undercover Internet sex sting operations had a prior arrest for any type of sexual offense against a minor, and these men rarely lie about their age, or even who they are and what they do. Most are married—many claim to be happily married—and few have been involved in any type of criminal activity prior to their arrest for an Internet offense against a minor.

Isn’t That Entrapment?

Many people have watched shows like “To Catch a Predator,” and may wonder whether what they are seeing is entrapment. In the legal world, there is enticed, and there is entrapped, and few defendants can support their claims of entrapment. Police officers are allowed to entice a person who is “disposed to commit a crime” to…commit the crime, and this is different from entrapment. Entrapment occurs when a police officer overcomes the will of an otherwise unwilling person to persuade that person to commit a criminal act. In Internet undercover sex sting operations, if a police officer may not initiate contact with the defendant, did not initiate the sexual discussions, and otherwise does nothing to cause the defendant to do anything he would not have done on his own, then there is no entrapment.

Tests to Determine Whether Entrapment Occurred

The tests to determine whether a sting operation involves any level of entrapment are both subjective and objective. Regardless of the sting operation in place, if the alleged offender had a predisposition to commit the crime he is accused of, then this is the subjective test. If the government’s “encouragement” to the alleged offender exceeds a reasonable level, or goes “too far,” then this is the objective test result which would indicate entrapment. As an example, if the undercover officer insisted on a face-to-face meeting, while the person accused of the crime resisted such a meeting, then the undercover sting may well have crossed the line. An experienced Mississippi criminal defense attorney can determine whether an undercover sex sting went too far, and whether the accused would have committed the crime without the encouragement of the police.

How an Undercover Sex Sting Operation Is Set Up

Typically, to set up an undercover sex sting operation, a law enforcement investigator posts a profile on the Internet or poses as a young boy or girl and goes into a chat room online. Once another person has initiated a conversation with the undercover officer, the officer will respond, with a goal of building a relationship with the person which will end in a face-to-face meeting—and an arrest. The identity of the offender is determined through investigation and tracking IP computer addresses. Logs are maintained of each online interaction, because each interaction could be a potential charge, as well as being evidence of the crime.

The allegation that the person knew he was speaking to a minor, rather than adult, must be supported, through instant messages, Twitter messages, chat room chats, Facebook messages, texts or emails. If everything falls into place (from the perspective of the police), then the offender may be charged with illegal use of a computer to solicit a minor, or in some states, attempted sexual assault. The language used by the Police during this process is important, to avoid crossing the line from enticement to entrapment. In some cases, police use fake websites which offer child pornography when luring online predators, however this is borderline entrapment, and, is only a short-term solution to dealing with online predators.

Parents Must Know What Their Children Are Doing Online

The undercover sex sting operation is one which has been debated for years in Europe, primarily because of the issue of entrapment. Further, sex stings are not the glamorous busts you see on television, rather are somewhat grim windows into the loneliness and desperations which motivates some of the men who are arrested. Most of the men who are arrested feel a sense of shock, and are likely thinking of how this arrest will affect their job, their family and their future.

The vast majority of undercover Internet sex sting operations end in arrests and convictions—the conviction rate for these undercover sex stings is as high as 70-95 percent. Sting operations can take months, and parents must recognize that there will always be online predators who will not get caught. Virtually any child who has social media is accessible by an online predator, therefore parents must know what their children are doing online.

Contact Our Jackson Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are arrested in a sex sting operation in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, you need to fight for your rights and protect your freedom. The best way to do this is to hire an experienced Jackson criminal defense attorney immediately.

At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe in fighting aggressively for our clients and we can build a defense that is designed to expose the holes in the prosecution’s case against you.

Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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