This week’s Friday story makes me think that the following cities are pretty safe when it comes to violent crime: El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. This is because officers spent this week in a sting operation to – wait for it – cite people for buying alcohol for minors. Seriously?!
Officers enlisted minors to work undercover and stand outside stores in those three cities and ask 232 adults to buy alcohol for them. Only 13 people were cited. Wow, right? I know what you are thinking, “Isn’t that entrapment?” Well, first let’s deal with the Selling or Furnishing Alcohol to Minors situation.
Giving alcohol to or purchasing it for a person under 21 years of age is a misdemeanor in California and violating this law subjects the defendant to jail time and fines. One of the most common ways to violate California’s “furnishing alcohol to a minor” law occurs at grocery or liquor stores near college campuses. That is, an underage individual will give an adult money and ask that they please buy the underage person some alcohol. Then as the adult returns, an officer busts you either because they were using the minor as one of their agents – or a youthful looking officer – in an undercover sting operation; or they observed the adult furnishing the alcohol to the minor.
Moreover, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has announced that beginning in January of 2011 it will provide money to local law enforcement agencies that employ these type of undercover operations. This may explain the recent stings in three Southbay cities. Such stings are typically known as “shoulder tap” operations.
One defense that can be asserted here would be a Mistake of Fact defense which means that if the judge or jury believes that the defendant honestly and reasonably thought that the minor was of legal drinking age, they could choose to acquit the defendant of the charge. And, then there is Entrapment.
Entrapment serves as an absolute legal defense in California if the defendant can prove that he only committed the charged offense because the police lured him into doing so. A defendant would have to show that this was a situation where a normally law abiding person is induced to commit a crime that he otherwise would not have committed. This only applies to police conduct that is overbearing such as forms of pressure, harassment, fraud, flattery, or threats. Now, herein “lies the rub” because entrapment will not serve as a defense if the officer merely offers you the opportunity to participate in an illegal activity. This is because the law believes that reasonable people presented with a similar situation to commit a crime will resist the temptation to do so.
This rational for the law is a big hurdle to overcome for the 13 defendants in this Southbay sting because hundreds of other people actually did resist the temptation to purchase alcohol for a minor when presented with the opportunity to do so. It will also be difficult to convince a judge or jury that a minor standing outside a liquor store presented himself as overbearing to the defendant, so much so that it rose to the level of entrapment. Prosecutors will argue that the actions of the minors as “agents” of the officer was permissible conduct not subject to California entrapment law because it was merely presenting an opportunity to participate in criminal activity. Undercover operations have typically been deemed as permissible conduct not subject to entrapment laws.
If convicted of furnishing alcohol to minors, the defendants face a maximum $1,000 fine and will be required to perform no less than 24 hours of community service in either an alcohol or drug treatment facility or at a county coroner’s office. If the minor consumed the alcohol and caused either himself or another person to suffer great bodily injury or death, the defendant would face a six-month to one-year county jail sentence and the $1,000 fine.
You can read the story here.