Sentencing Entrapment in Confidential Informants Drug Buy Cases
Many citizens of Pennsylvania are charged with selling drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc., to confidential informants. However, there is a special defense, known as sentencing entrapment, which can be raised in drug deal criminal cases in Pennsylvania to avoid application of certain sentencing enhancement factors.
The seminal case is Commonwealth v. Petzold, a 1997 Pennsylvania Superior Court case. There, the court adopted the sentencing entrapment doctrine and held that it applies in mandatory minimum drug cases.
Under the sentencing entrapment doctrine, a defendant, although predisposed to commit a minor or lesser offense, is entrapped (tricked) into committing a greater offense which carries a harsher punishment.
This doctrine is often applicable to criminal drug cases, especially ones where undercover agents determine the amount of drugs a target will buy or where a target will purchase the drugs (which can trigger mandatory minimum sentences under drug-free school zone laws).
What is Sentencing Entrapment?
Sentencing entrapment is similar to traditional notions of entrapment in that it requires extraordinary misconduct by the government. However, it’s different from classic entrapment because the defense cannot be used to defend the charges altogether and therefore, cannot result in an acquittal. Rather, the defense works at the sentencing phase and allows someone convicted of a drug crime to argue for a reduced sentence, such as:
- a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines,
- relief from a mandatory minimum prison sentence, or
- exclusion of one or more criminal transactions from a sentencing scheme.
In the Petzold case, the court found that outrageous government conduct which increases a defendant’s prison term can be offset by applying the sentencing entrapment doctrine. In addition, the court found that the benefits of undercover operations (reverse sting operations) must be balanced against the power law enforcement agents hold when setting up an operation which will ultimately determine the length of a defendant’s sentence.
Proving Sentencing Entrapment in Drug Cases
Proving sentencing entrapment is not easy because it requires outrageous government conduct which is designed to and results in an increased sentence. This standard is quite high, and the burden lies solely with the defendant. It is not established by simply showing that an idea originated with or was encouraged by the government agent. Basically, the defendant in a drug case must be coerced or actively encouraged into buying more drugs than he was inclined to buy in the first place.
In the Petzold case, the court found that there was not enough evidence to support a sentencing entrapment argument. The confidential informant suggested the amount; however, the defendant needed little urging before quickly agreeing to take 5 pounds of marijuana. In addition, he insisted he could take 5 pounds. Therefore, the court found that the government did not act in an outrageous manner.
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