Was I entrapped for furnishing alcohol when the police sat outside a liquor store?
Cops Outside of Shops
In the past, police would often conduct furnishing alcohol to minor investigations by having an undercover police officer pose as an employee inside a six-pack shop or liquor store. The police realized that the actual handoff of the alcohol occurred off premises, so they changed their investigations from Cops-In-Shops to Cops-Outside-Of-Shops. In Centre County, many Furnishing Alcohol to Minors cases are based upon investigations conducted by the State College Police Department or Liquor Control Enforcement officers outside of establishments that sell alcohol. In State College, the two prime locations are the Hamilton Street Square, which is home to a liquor store and the Beer Bellys beer distributor, and the liquor store located on North Atherton Street.
When conducting surveillance, the police are looking for vehicles that contain multiple people, but only some of the occupants enter the store. Signs on the doors of the liquor stores advise that anyone that enters will be carded, which is why the under-21 people remain in the vehicle. If all passengers are over 21, generally all passengers enter the store together and pick out the alcohol together. When some of the occupants do not enter, the police now suspect that those persons are under 21. The person that purchased the alcohol returns to the car, the car pulls away, and the police follow behind. After the purchaser of the alcohol exits the vehicle, that person has now relinquished possession of the alcohol and thereby “furnished.” The other occupants of the vehicle has now taken possession of the alcohol.
At that point, one police officer often stops the vehicle to question the occupants, and a second officer stops the furnisher. The police confront everyone, advise that this is a suspected furnishing investigation, and the people are told that cooperation with the police will possibly help them in the future. The goal of the police officers is to have the minors and furnisher provide admissions that can be used in future court proceedings during the prosecution of the charges. Everyone is ultimately released by the police, and charges are filed in the future. The driver and passengers that are under-21 are issued summary citations for Possession of Alcohol by a Minor, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. 6308. The furnisher is charged via summons with various misdemeanor offenses of Furnishing Alcohol to a Minors.
While the undercover investigations appear to be overkill for a Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor case, such operations are lawful and do not constitute entrapment. An entrapment defense is an argument that police action induced or caused a person to commit a crime. For example, if the police used an attractive officer to purchase alcohol in exchange for sexual favors, such an incident would constitute entrapment. In this new version of Cops Outside Shops, the police are exercising common sense in conducting surveillance in an area in which they expect to observe criminal activity. This is similar to police parking relatively close to a bar around closing time. While these investigations are like “shooting fish in a barrel,” that is the police using common sense and is not entrapment.