entrapment, in law, the instigation of a crime in the attempt to obtain cause for a criminal prosecution. Situations in which a government operative merely provides the occasion for the commission of a criminal act (e.g., when an undercover agent posing as a narcotics dealer is approached by a would-be customer) do not constitute entrapment. Only when the crime was not initially contemplated by the target is entrapment said to occur: thus, for example, an undercover agent may not recruit a previously law-abiding individual into a drug distribution ring in order to prosecute. Many police operations, especially in the areas of drugs and gambling, raise questions of entrapment, which is available as a defense in a trial.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.