Four men were charged with plotting the kidnapping of the Michigan Governor. Gretchen Whitmer’s main question is whether or not the FBI engaged in entrapment, a prohibited practice of tricking subjects into committing criminal acts.
In a sting that lasted for months, the FBI sent undercover agents and informants to catch Adam Fox Jr., Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris. The sting ended in October 2020 when Brandon Caserta was arrested. Prosecutors claim the men were motivated by their hatred for government and fury at COVID-19 restrictions imposed on them by the Democratic governor. One witness statedthey wanted to stop Joe Biden winning the presidency.
Here’s a look at entrapment at trial in Grand Rapids federal court.
WHAT IS THE ORIGINAL OF ENTRAPMENT
It is a relatively new concept under U.S. law. A 2014 Chicago 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision ruled in favor. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Chicago 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge mocked the notion that anyone could be entrapped.
The judge stated that “this plea has never been used to shield crime or provide indemnity to the suspect”
As a check against overzealous criminal investigators, however, the prohibition on entrapment was established in the first half century.
What are the MAIN Elements of Entrapment?
Courts have ruled that deceiving targets and using agents pretending to be others is an acceptable investigatory technique. However, it doesn’t necessarily indicate entrapment.
When investigators use coercion and persuasion in order to induce targets to commit crimes they are not qualified to do, until the undercover agents or informants enter the picture, it is called entrapment.
Mathews v. United States was a landmark 1988 case. The U.S. Supreme Court characterized someone without a predisposition “an innocent who readily availed herself of the opportunity to commit the crime” and “an unwary criminal who readily availed themselves of the chance to do so.”
Prosecutors must show beyond reasonable doubt that defendants were not entrapped.
What is the MAIN PITFALL IN ARGUING ENTRAPMENT?
The defense attorneys admit to jurors that their client committed the acts alleged in the indictment. They must also surrender defense claims, such as that the clients were not present at the scene of the crime and that they were wrongly arrested.
The defense must convince jurors, if they are to succeed in an entrapment case, that they too might be tempted to commit a major crime if there is enough pressure and deceit. This is a difficult sell.
HOW WAS ENTRAPMENT CENTRALIZED IN THIS TRIAL?
Judges often assess whether there is sufficient evidence to support an entrapment defense before they go to trial.
Robert Jonker, the presiding judge, initially stated that he would wait for evidence to be entered at trial. However, he abruptly changed his mind during opening statement after defense lawyers had violated his instructions and repeatedly suggested that the FBI had entrapped their clients.
The judge asked jurors to leave the room after he said that he knew waiting for a ruling was unwise, as the defense had built their entire strategy around an “entrapment defense”. He suggested that they be open with jurors about this.
What has the Defense Said So Far?
They portrayed their clients in openings as pot-smoking weekend warriors and big-talking talkers, which made them susceptible to manipulation by FBI agents who encouraged them to discuss far-fetched, potentially dangerous schemes.
Christopher Gibbonss, Fox’s lawyer, stated to jurors that “the point is, everything which moves this case forward…it’s the government moving every one of it.”
Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s attorney, claimed that agents secretly recorded Croft’s men when they were “absolutely insane stoned.” He said they talked about Whitmer being strapped to a kite and how to transport her.
He said that the FBI knew it was not a plot and stoned-crazy talk.
WHAT ABOUT PROSECUTORS?
They tried to prove that the men were not just predisposed to plot kidnapping, but also that they had been discussing it with federal agents before coming into contact with informants and federal agents. Prosecutors claimed that the defendants also took steps to execute the plans, including searching Whitmer’s house.
Jonathan Roth, the prosecutor, stated in his opening statement that “these were not people who were all talking.” “These were people who wanted their own seperation from those who were all talk.”
Government witnesses included codefendants, who pleaded guiltybefore trial, and who said that no one pressured them. Fox spoke of grabbing the governor “everytime I saw him,” Kaleb Frans, who pleaded guilty to the charges in February, said to jurors.
IS AN ENTRAPMENT DEFENSE EVER SUCCESSED?
Lawyers often claim that their clients are entrapped after an arrest. However, the risks associated with such a strategy typically dissuade them form arguing it at trial.
It is impossible to defend against entrapment. It doesn’t mean it will never work.
John DeLorean, the iconic automaker, was one of the most successful. Detroit-born DeLorean was charged with conspiring to sell $24 Million of cocaine in order to save his venture to build futuristic cars.
After an informant, who was recently convicted of drug trafficking, went to the FBI to report that DeLorean approached him about such a plan, he was arrested.
After testimony that DeLorean was first approached by the informant and convinced him that the drug deal would help his struggling business get out of deep financial trouble, the jury acquitted DeLorean.