08 August 2011

Mark Bowden - A Crime of Shadows

Today's article is from Vanity Fair.

Question: what, exactly, constitutes entrapment? At what point does law enforcement cross the line from catching people who are attempting to commit crimes to creating opportunities for people to commit crimes to creating crimes and tricking people into committing them? Sorry if that was hard to parse. Maybe Mark Bowden's words will be a bit more clear:

[...] Justice Byron White wrote: “In their zeal to enforce the law ... Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” The justices did not address either the subjective or objective tests directly, but they made it clear that predisposition alone did not mean guilt, particularly if the crime was suggested by police to begin with.
So there's the line, theoretically. But what does that mean in practice? Say, in the case of cops luring potential child predators online? That's the case that Bowden is looking at here. Yes, it's a loaded issue, and it's one that tends to elicit strong emotional reactions. Which is what makes it such a good test case here. Bowden does a good job with this article (which is a couple of years old, but I just found it yesterday) of breaking down the way that the Online Child Predator has become a cultural icon, and the way that the image of the predator gets used to justify what I would characterize as abuses of police authority.

In any case: this is a good, solid, thought-provoking article, and it's worth reading.

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