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"The Government Beguiled Me": The Entrapment Defense and the Problem of Private Entrapment

by Gideon Yaffe

Defendants who are being tried for accepting a temptation issued by the government sometimes employ the entrapment defense. Acquittal of some of them is thought to be justified either on the grounds that culpability was undermined by the temptation (the “subjective” approach) or on the grounds that the government acted objectionably in issuing the temptation (the “objective” approach). Advocates of the objective approach often criticize those who employ the subjective by citing what is here called “the problem of private entrapment”: we don’t grant a defense to those who accept temptations issued by private parties, and so it can’t be, it is claimed, that temptation undermines culpability. This paper argues that there is a difference in culpability between a defendant who accepts a government-issued temptation and a defendant who accepts a temptation issued by a private party. This claim is supported by identifying a necessary condition for desert of legal punishment and arguing that the privately entrapped satisfy that condition while the governmentally entrapped do not. The difference, it is argued, is rooted in the fact that the government aims to cause the defendant to act illegally, while private parties, except in extraordinary cases, aim only to cause the defendant to act in a way that happens to be illegal. The paper also argues that, despite appearances to the contrary, advocates of the objective approach also encounter the problem of private entrapment.

ISSN 1559-3061
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