Bait Cars Backpage Entrapment Texas

Bait Cars, Backpage, and the Entrapment Defense

By | Prostitution, Theft | No Comments

Bait Cars Backpage Entrapment TexasOur firm has represented many defendants in Fort Worth with cases stemming from a bait car or a Backpage ad. For those of you not familiar with either, let me explain Bait Cars and Backpage.

What is a Bait Car?

A Bait Car is vehicle owned by the police department and equipped with GPS devices and cameras. But, the car looks like any regular car on the street. The police typically place something valuable inside the Bait Car, such as a paint spray rig, and then they park the car (with the keys inside) on the side of the street in a low-income part of town. If someone tries to steal the bait car or the valuables inside, the GPS is triggered, the camera is activated, and the police are alerted. In most cases, the person does not get very far before a patrol car arrives to arrest them for theft.

What is Backpage?

I doubt I can fully explain what Backpage is or how it is used, but in the cases that we see, Backpage is a website (akin to Craigslist) where escorts and ladies of the night advertise their services. Potential Johns can browse the Backpage website to arrange an interlude of momentary love. The police have been using Backpage and arranging for a female officer to meet men at a local motel room posing as a prostitute. With backup officers waiting in the bathroom, the John is arrested for Solicitation of a Prostitute when they arrive to meet the woman/officer they contacted on Backpage.

Is it Entrapment for the Police to Use a Bait Car or to Advertise on Backpage?

We get this question in every Bait Car or Backpage case. To answer the question, we typically explain that fairness and equity are not the same as the legal defense of entrapment. Just because the police conduct doesn’t seem fair or because we think the police are “creating the crimes,” does not mean that it is entrapment.

Section 8.06 of the Texas Penal Code defines the affirmative defense of Entrapment:

“It is a defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense.”

The Penal Code goes on to explain that: “Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.”

Therein lies the rub. By using a Bait Car and by advertising escort services on Backpage, the Fort Worth police are “merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense,” so under the law, entrapment would not apply to these situations. Don’t get me wrong, we hate Bait Cars and Backpage. We wish the police would use their time and resources toward real crimes, rather than “creating opportunities” for people to commit crimes. Why in the world would we want to create opportunities for people to commit crimes in the first place? That is similar to setting up a keg right outside the AA meeting with a sign for free beer.

Whether we like it or not, entrapment does not apply as an affirmative defense in these cases. Regardless, our attorneys still fight hard to get bait car and Backpage cases dismissed, reduced, or mitigated any way we can. Anecdotally, we’ve seen that a lot of prosecutors don’t like these cases any more than we do. Hopefully, we will see bait cars and Backpage go away soon, but until then, know that Entrapment won’t help you if you choose the wrong car or the wrong escort.


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Criminal Attorneys Fort Worth

Purposeless Pacing Not Evidence of Prostitution

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Prostitution Case Overturned for Lack of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause | Fort Worth Prostitution Defense Attorneys

Criminal Attorneys Fort WorthState v. Johnson – San Antonio 4th Court of Appeals (2015)
At approximately 9:00 p.m., San Antonio police officer Christopher Connelly and his partner observed Shamar Johnson “pacing” on the sidewalk in a dimly lit area near two gay clubs. Officer Connelly’s testimony differs from Johnson’s in some respects, but there is general agreement on the relevant facts. The area was known for gay prostitution. Based on their belief that Johnson had no reason to be loitering in the area, Officer Connelly and his partner pulled up to Johnson in their car, exited the vehicle and began questioning Johnson.

When Johnson saw the car, he stopped. According to Officer Connelly, Johnson appeared to be nervous and put his hands in his pockets. Johnson said that the presence of the officers on either side of him was intimidating. Officer Connelly instructed Johnson to put his hands on the patrol car and asked Johnson if he had anything illegal in his possession. Again, Johnson said that he did not believe he could leave and had to do exactly what the officers said. Johnson told the officers they could search him. The officers found a plastic bag containing cocaine and arrested Johnson.

Johnson moved to suppress the evidence the officers found because the detention and search were unlawful. The trial court found Officer Connelly’s testimony “credible” and denied the motion to suppress. Johnson subsequently struck a plea bargain and pled no contest to the charge of possession of a controlled substance.

Johnson appealed the trial court’s decision. Consistent with the standard for reviewing a trial court’s action on a motion to suppress, the Court of Appeals deferred almost entirely to the trial judge, who was in the best position to assess credibility of witnesses, regarding the facts of the case, but made its own determination regarding how the law applied to the facts.

In a four-step analysis, the Court of Appeals found the officers’ encounter with Johnson constituted an unlawful seizure and the motion to suppress should have been granted.

(1) Both sides agreed that the officers’ encounter with Johnson was not consensual. The State admitted there was no support to argue the search was consensual.

(2) The state argued the officers’ detention of Johnson was based upon reasonable suspicion, which requires the existing of specific facts leading an officer to conclude that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime. The State cited the facts that Johnson was in a dimly lit area known for male prostitution and Johnson’s “loitering” looked like someone who was engaged in prostitution. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that being present in a dimly lit area, even an area known for prostitution, does not provide reasonable suspicion that an individual is a prostitute. Because the officers had no reasonable suspicion to detain Johnson, Johnson’s detention was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

(3) The Court considered whether Johnson’s consent to search was an act of free will. The court noted the consent occurred shortly after Johnson was told to place his hands on the car and there were no intervening circumstances to lessen the “taint” of the improper detention. Although nothing indicated the officers intended to commit an unlawful detention, the Court found Johnson’s consent was not an exercise of his free will and therefore did not remove the taint of the unlawful detention.

(4) After determining the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress, the Court of Appeals considered whether that error made any difference in Johnson’s punishment. Although Johnson accepted a plea bargain rather than go to trial, the Court of Appeals believed the denial of the motion to suppress gave the State leverage in the process and may have contributed to Johnson’s giving up his right to a trial in order to obtain a favorable punishment recommendation.

Many people believe they are required to cooperate in any encounter with police until the police officers terminate the encounter. However, Johnson v. Texas makes it clear police officers do not have unlimited authority to detain an individual unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed. While police officers may see reasonable suspicion where others would not and trial courts may agree, higher court decisions have set a standard for reasonable suspicion which limits police ability to detain citizens who, like Shamar Johnson, just appear to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.