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Are more government agencies using undercover operations?


Yes, they are. In a front page article in "The New York Times", dated November 16, 2014, the federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors and ministers to ferret out wrongdoing. At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover cops dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protesters to look for suspicious activity. At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers, accountants, drug dealers or yacht buyers. At the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have seen undercover cops used in many different situations.

Some agency officials say such operations give them a powerful new tool to gather evidence in ways that standard law enforcement methods do not offer. But the broadened scope of undercover work, which can target specific individuals or categories of possible suspects, also raises concerns about civil liberty abuses and entrapment of unwitting targets. These operations reflect a more aggressive approach to growing criminal activities like identity theft, online solicitation and human trafficking. But undercover work involves, at it's core, government deceitfulness, lying and participation in criminal activity. The Justice Department has issued new guidelines to prosecutors last year to tighten oversight of undercover operations. Defendants who are prosecuted in undercover operations often raise a defense of entrapment, asserting that agents essentially lured them into a criminal act , whether it is buying drugs from an undercover cop or providing fraudulent government services. But the entrapment defense rarely rarely succeeds in court.

Lesson Learned:

Is it then hopeless to fight a criminal prosecution involving an undercover agent? Hardly. One of the first things I ask undercover cops who testify is whether or not they tape recorded their conversations using hidden recording devices. These devices have become almost inconspicuous and can pick up conversations very well. But oftentimes, they are not used by undercover agents, who cite concerns for their safety as the prime reason for not wearing them. While this answer may work when drug dealing is involved, it's less believable when regular citizens are involved. Also, undercover agents usually pay (or overpay) some person for information leading to the criminal wrongdoers. The person paid is usually a criminal himself...and this does not sit well with juries. A good criminal defense lawyer can put the government on trial, so to speak, but examining the way the undercover agent acted. In some instances, jurors become so turned off by the undercover agent and his tactics (think Denzel Washington's character in the movie "Training Day") that they acquit the person charged with the criminal activity.

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