Sunday, June 22, 2008

NBC Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" and the Dangers of Entrapment

Some of you may have seen the that voyeuristic Dateline show called "To Catch a Predator." On that show, a Dateline works with a group called "Perverted Justice" to trap predators who troll the internet to look for underage children for sex. When the predator arrives at the house, Dateline nabs nabs the predators on camera and a reporter, usually Chris Hansen, interviews him before letting him go. After the predator leaves the house, he is arrested by cops.

Is this entrapment? As far as I can tell, from a legal standpoint, it is not entrapment. In other words, a judge would probably not throw out the case for reasons of entrapment. As a non-lawyer, I can just assume that the police, "Perverted Justice," and Dateline take the necessary precautions to stay within the law.

But legal questions aside, is this entrapment at a moral level? If I induce someone to commit a crime, am I morally guilty of something? If Dateline or "Perverted Justice" induces someone to commit their crime, or merely offers themselves as a foil on which the person tries to commit a crime, does the inducer have any guilt?

I am quite aware of the argument that most, maybe all, of the predators nabbed on the show would have tried to have sex with underage children if they had not been caught. I'll accept that argument for the sake of argument (although I have my doubts as to whether all of the people caught would have done what they did were it not for "Perverted Justice" enticing them). For what it's worth, I'll also say I have no sympathy for the people who are caught on the show.

But if I were to entice someone to commit a crime, even a crime that that person would otherwise commit, am I not "creating" the specific crime and thus share in the crime's guilt?

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