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Is the Summit County Sheriff’s Office Committing Entrapment?

A 16 year old kid comes up to you outside a liquor store and asks you to buy her some booze. What do you do? YOU DON’T DO IT.

With that out of the way, the Park Record is reporting that the Sheriff’s Office is setting up a sting where underage children will be to used to solicit adults to buy them alcohol. They call it the “Shoulder Tap Campaign.” According to the paper, anyone who buys for the minor will be charged with a crime by the Summit County Sheriff.

While the “ends” are admirable, the question to ask is if the “means” are appropriate. In this case, is the Summit County Sheriff entrapping people into a crime they would not otherwise commit? Many people would argue that this practice is NOT OK — that unless the adult has repeatedly proven that they are a source of alcohol to minors, they were coerced into committing a crime by an agent of law enforcement. They were entrapped. That makes logical sense.

However, it seems that entrapment may be a more nuanced subject than Law and Order and Hill Street Blue taught us. Utah code section 76-2-303 says that “Entrapment occurs when a peace officer or a person directed by or acting in cooperation with the officer induces the commission of an offense in order to obtain evidence of the commission for prosecution by methods creating a substantial risk that the offense would be committed by one not otherwise ready to commit it.” Holy crap, given that, it sounds like anyone charged with a crime based on Summit County’s sting would be found not guilty. However, the code continues, “Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.” So, it sounds like if a 16 year old asks you to buy beer and you immediately agree, then you are toast.

The problem I have with this is the same problem I often have with the FBI “grooming” terrorists. They find the uneducated. They find the mentally disabled. They find the poor. They find people who would never do such a thing but in some circumstance they get led down the path by law enforcement. As this 2012 New York Times article says, “This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.”

I just don’t like these types of actions. Catch people committing crimes. Don’t cause people to commit crimes and then catch them. I understand that this, what some would call a publicity stunt, is aimed at changing behavior so that fewer people buy minors alcohol. I get it it, but I don’t agree with it.

The Sheriff’s office, and the minors who agree to be bait, should also keep in mind other parts of Utah law. Section 32B-4-409 of the Utah code is about purchasing alcohol. It states, “It is unlawful for a minor to solicit another person to purchase an alcoholic product.” In a cursory review of the code, there is NO exception for “helping law enforcement.” So, we are left with someone committing a crime to try and convince someone else to commit a crime.


There has to be a better way. If not, I hope next January we read about Park City police “selling” GHB on street corners during Sundance. Last year, that drug almost killed 3 people on Main Street in a two week period.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Note: I am not a lawyer. The above should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney before providing any alcohol to underage children that are likely to have already gotten alcohol from their parents (which appears is legal in the State of Utah)… but again check with your attorney to know whether that is legal either.


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