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Attorney Obtains Acquittal in Sex-Sting Case

By Lavender December 2, 2010

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Interview with Jeff Dean

In an interview with Lavender, Minneapolis attorney Jeff Dean discussed the recent acquittal of his client caught up in a sex sting at Crosby Park in St. Paul.

Would you provide a summary of the current sex sting, and the allegations against your client?

My client was simply out for a walk in the park when the undercover officer approached him, pretending to show intense personal interest. The officer soon shifted the conversation to sex, asking my client about his sexual interests, and sharing his own. He then invited my client to walk into the woods, while continuing the personal and sexual conversation. Flattered by the officer’s advances, my client momentarily touched the clothing over the officer’s groin area. The cop immediately arrested him, and charged him with indecent exposure and lewd conduct, even though nobody else saw the touch occur.

Explain your defense strategy for your client.

The defense strategy was twofold.

First, we established that it is not a crime to sexually touch a consenting adult—or an adult who purports to consent—even in a public place, such as a beach or park, if nobody else sees it. The St. Paul sting unit seems to have been misinformed that any sexual contact is per se lewd if it occurs in a public place. The correct legal analysis is whether an inference of indecency can be drawn from the nature of the place and the circumstances in which the touch occurs.

The second defense strategy was that the officer’s conduct of sexually luring my client was entrapment. Entrapment is a defense if counsel can establish that the police originated the idea of the crime, and induced the accused to engage in it. My client was in the park minding his own business when the officer approached him and seduced him. It was the officer’s overt sexual advances that enticed my client to touch him.

In 2008, you defended a man arrested in the same airport sex sting that snared then-Senator Larry Craig. The jury in that case also acquitted your client. Was your defense strategy in the Crosby Park case similar to your strategy in the airport case?

In the airport cases, an undercover officer would sit in a bathroom stall sending signals of interest to others, who responded by looking into the officer’s stall, and were then arrested. My argument was that it is not a crime to look at and flirt with a person who initiated contact, and then invited you to do so, even when that occurs in adjacent bathroom stalls.

In what other types of cases is entrapment raised as a defense? When will an entrapment defense be successful?

Whether the defense is successful turns on this question: Did the police simply provide an opportunity for a willing person to commit the act? Or did the police persuade a person to commit an act he was not predisposed to commit? For example, in a prostitution sting, it would not be entrapment for an undercover officer to stand on a corner posing as a prostitute, and arrest a person who approached her offering money for sex.

What would you tell readers about how to respond to such invitations?

Be careful. In some of these cases, the police have arrested people for just talking about what they would like to do sexually. Do not assume that because your actions are legal, you are safe from being arrested. Even though you could be exonerated in the end, you would still have to go through the court process if arrested. Also, don’t bother asking the person if he is a cop. An undercover officer is not required to disclose that.

Will this case change the way that police conduct these types of sting operations?

It will if the police want to be spared continued acquittals. It took the jurors just 50 minutes of deliberations before finding my client not guilty. In postverdict interviews, jurors were asked about the issues they focused on. They said that they spent most of the time talking about why this type of case is even being prosecuted, stating that my client’s act of touching the officer “was something any couple would do.” Community outrage and pressure, which I think is highly-appropriate based on the conduct of this sting operation, is the best way to prevent these police abuses from occurring in the future.

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