That was the question posed by police officers and legal experts in Lubbock, Texas, where authorities have resorted more and more often to using sting operations to catch defendants in the act of soliciting minors. To cite just one typical case, a 22-year-old man named Kevin Porter was indicted on a second-degree felony charge for arranging to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl for the purpose of having sex with her. Arrested by police when he arrived at the meeting place, Porter now potentially faces time in prison.
Lubbock authorities defend their operations, pointing out that, in many cases, the victims of these crimes are real. They cite the recent conviction of 26-year-old Christopher Wayne Howard, who was sentenced to 27 months in prison by the U.S. District Court in Lubbock for a single count of transferring obscene data to a 13-year-old girl. Predators are out there, they say, and the exploitation of children is a particularly heinous offense.
The main point of contention is this: does using sting operations to catch offenders in the act simply create offenders out of men who would otherwise never have considered soliciting a minor? Police are quick to note that they simply plant the bait in sites where offenders have already entered; they don't use pop up ads to lure people in.
The flaw in this logic is that Texas employs what is called an "objective focus" when the state looks at the standard for entrapment. If a jury deems the police's actions in baiting a suspect are reasonable, then the police are not guilty of entrapment. When police officers pose as 14-year-old girls, however, jurors may be overcome with disgust and outrage at the defendant simply for responding, making it hard for jurors to see entrapment, even when it is legitimately there.
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