Underage Alcohol Sales Entrapment Stings

A recent sheriff’s department sting operation against alcohol retailers was illegal entrapment. That’s the conclusion of a jury in Florida.

Entrapment is illegal because it is an attempt to induce law-abiding citizens into engaging in crimes that they would not otherwise have committed. It tricks and deceives the innocent into breaking the law and is a federal offense. In the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, entrapment “deserves the severest condemnation.”

Charges have now been dropped against a cashier, Reese Nickells, accused of selling alcohol to a minor who was an undercover operative, and prosecutors say other cases resulting from an undercover sting operation will have to be dropped as well.

A similar sting operation resulted in the earlier arrest of bartender Robin Scocozza after she served a beer to the same undercover operative who was several months shy of his 21st birthday, has a receding hairline and was wearing a beard in both operations.

Ms. Scocozza was acquitted in a jury trial last week, and jurors later said they believed she had been set up. The bartender had previously refused to serve another undercover minor. Deputies then sent in the "older-looking" operative to entrap her. Although she was an innocent victim, the illegal law enforcement operation cost her time, anxiety, and a large amount of money.

The operative, who looks much older than his actual age, served as an undercover informant in 16 other sting operations that resulted in arrests and fines as high as $300. Apparently, his work led to 16 illegal entrapments for which people may have lost their jobs and reputations and for which they were forced to pay heavy fines.

The U.S. Attorney General’s guidelines for the FBI are based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions and exist in order to protect the rights of the innocent while convicting the guilty. Those guidelines insist, for example, that sting operations can only be conducted against the “unwary guilty,” not the “unwary innocent.”

To prevent illegal entrapment retail establishments should not be randomly selected. That would not prevent entrapping a clerk who sells “innocently due to a momentary lapse in judgment” as a result of being rushed, from becoming distracted, or other reasonable cause.

“The only way to ensure that only the "unwary guilty" are caught in the trap is to create a history of the cashier in question with the use of surveillance or repeated compliance checks which are not also sting operations.” Since many, if not most of those caught in these sting operations have passed previous compliance checks, which clearly proves that they have no criminal predisposition to make underage sales, they are the "unwary innocent" if induced by law enforcement to sell to an underage person.

It’s important to enforce the law, but it’s also important to follow the law in doing so. Unfortunately, many law enforcement agencies fail to protect the rights of innocent citizens and illegally entrap them in underage alcohol sales stings.

A highly successful alternative to alcohol stings is to provide alcohol vendors an economic incentive to confiscate false ID’s and to impose civil fines of $1,000 on anyone under the age of 21 who attempts to purchase alcohol from them. Such a voluntary program was so successful in Anchorage that it has been expanded throughout the entire state of Alaska.

 

Reference:

  • Oldfather, Geoff. Charge dropped after alcohol sting. Sun-Sentinel, December 25, 2004; Compliance Checks and the Issue of Entrapment (http://www.geocities.com/uthurs_alcove/stings/
  • Entrapment.html); Sorrells v. U.S., 287,U.S. 435.

This page does not provide legal advice or opinion and none should be inferred. Always consult a qualified lawyer for legal advice or help.

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