Is it legal to bait or troll a sting operation?

Correct title: Is it legal to bait or troll a sting operation"

Disclaimers: not legal advice, not a request for legal advice, messing with sting operations are likely to result in severe suffering, regardless of whether or not you actually broke the law.

I’ve actually been curious about this for a while, but I recently heard an anecdote about a friend of a friend who saw something suspicious in his neighborhood, called police, found that the police weren’t terribly interested after they saw the thing, then the friend decided to do some private sleuthing and promptly walked into a police sting operation and was arrested. Apparently he managed to escape without conviction, though I can imagine the ordeal.

I was curious as to (opinions from any common law jurisdiction are welcome), whether or not it is per se a crime to mess with, bait, ot troll sting operations or things that you or a reasonable person who knew what you knew would believe were sting operations.

E.g. if I went to some chat room, found “Suzie_12_PalmBeach”, suspected that this was a sting operation persona for an anti-pedophile investigator, and then proceeded to chat “her” up for hours on innocient topics and otherwise have a good time thinking about how I’m wasting some cop’s time who is hoping that I’ll commit an offense that I have no intention of committing, have I committed an offense?

The only offense that seems relevant would be Obstruction of Justice, but that doesn’t seem to match as intending to reduce police efficency isn’t the same as intending to compromise a specific case or prevent the discovery of a specific offense, which is normally an element of Obstruction of Justice.

I’m rewriting the thread title for clarification:

Is it legal to bait or troll a sting operation?

And I have no idea.

I have used many of these string operations without running afoul of the law:

char *stpcpy (const char *dest,const char *src) – Copy one string into another.
int strcmp(const char *string1,const char *string2) - Compare string1 and string2 to determine alphabetic order.
char *strcpy(const char *string1,const char *string2) – Copy string2 to stringl.
char *strerror(int errnum) – Get error message corresponding to specified error number.
int strlen(const char *string) – Determine the length of a string.
char *strncat(const char *string1, char *string2, size_t n) – Append n characters from string2 to stringl.
int strncmp(const char *string1, char *string2, size_t n) – Compare first n characters of two strings.
char *strncpy(const char *string1,const char *string2, size_t n) – Copy first n characters of string2 to stringl .
int strcasecmp(const char *s1, const char *s2) – case insensitive version of strcmp().
int strncasecmp(const char *s1, const char *s2, int n) – case insensitive version of strncmp().

I actually recognized that the title was incorrect, but I couldn’t change it.

The correct question has nothing to do with strings, whether null terminated or otherwise.

This might be the case to which the OP alluded.

Fixed it for you.

In most places in the USA…

Crude chatting up of anyone who claims to be a 12 yr old girl is illegal whether or not you think it’s actually a cop.

It’s certainly illegal to have such a discussion with a 12 year old.

The argument for the police is that you cannot prove that you absolutely knew it was a cop.
And if you did you’d be guilty if hindering their investigation of actual pedophiles.

In your friends case, sluething around, IE nosing around other peoples business, is not recommended for anyone who isn’t an actual investigator (private or police). Your friend got lucky.

pan1, OP’s example specified spending all of his time on topics lawful to discuss with a girl twelve years of age.

From reading quite a few chat logs, and having watched a late 20s male friend troll as a 10-year-old girl, perverts do not wait 4 hours to broach topics unlawful.
The cop in question would probably determine you were not a likely subject after 15 minutes of not saying anything that was wholly inappropriate.

I think this could only be an offense if you knew for certain it was a cop, and you couldn’t. There is nothing illegal about having an “innocent” online conversation per se with anyone regardless of age.

But you start by saying that a reasonable person would know it’s a sting. How is that possible when law enforcement would do everything possible to prevent a reasonable person (i.e., the perp) from knowing it’s a sting?

But the OP said “innocent topics.” He is just interested in wasting the cop’s time, kind of like when I get a telemarketer call then start asking him about the weather and his kids.

I don’t think that is what the OP was suggesting. I think he was suggesting wasting the officers time by chatting about innocent topics like ponies and Hannah Montana.

bah, i read the word “innocent” as “indecent”… (not wearing my glasses)

But, a cop wouldn’t continue an innocent conversation very long.

An obstruction charge, maybe?

If you knowingly interfered or wasted the time of officers conducting an investigation I suppose a case could be made against you for Obstructing.

But it would have to be shown that you knew or believed there was a sting going on in the first place otherwise the element of intent is gone. The only way I could see that happening is if you confessed you thought it was a sting and were just messing with the police on purpose.

Basically, if an LEO were to realize that I had just wasted 5 hours of his time talking about ponies, party dresses, annoying little brothers, the beach, tennis, and other things that it is perfectly legal to talk about with little girls, and the LEO concluded that my purpose was to jerk him around and waste his time rather than have an actual innocent conversation with a little girl, can someone give me an example of a statute that I could be convicted under or case law indicating that this falls under Obstruction of Justice? It is my understanding that, in many cases, it is impossible to commit Obstruction without a predicate offense. In my theoretical scenario, no “obstructable” offense has been committed as it is legal for adults to chat with little girls in general, except where specifically prohibited.

Let me reiterate that doing this in real life may be asking to spend the night in jail and thousands in legal defense fees and whatnot.

Here is a Florida case that rejects the notion that one can be charged with obstruction for disrupting a sting operation. Bear in mind that other jurisdictions might have statutes that vary from Florida’s:

Which is why the burden of proof is on the police/prosecutor that:

  1. You knew, or had reason to believe that the police were conducting an investigation AND
  2. You intentionally did things to interfere, obstruct, or waste the time of said investigators.

A pretty heavy burden to prove, unless you actually confess to your intentions or had told someone else, wrote them down, etc… Even then Obstructing an Officer can be a tough charge to have stick.

Not real long ago I had a case where a guy approached me, told me his name was so & so but that he did not have his ID on him, but gave an address and date of birth that matched that name on record. He then gave a witness statement to an incident he claims he saw. Turns out his name was not so & so or anything close to it, and he probably did not witness the incident.

The Obstructing charge and the Identity Theft charge both got booted by the D.A.:mad:

Anyway, in the OP Obstructing is a possible charge but not a guaranteed one.

My googlefu has abandoned me, but I had read about some group fighting against cop abuses who suspected some police were getting warrants through unsavory means, and came up with some kind of sting of their own to get the cops to break in to a house looking to find pot that wasn’t there. Not sure how that all turned out.

UPDATE: I think this is what I’m thinking of, though the original story is probably on the kop busters website.

You have to be remembered there is a huge difference between being arrested and being convicted.

Let’s say you go to a party where there is drugs but you stay and do nothing. You don’t do anything or do drugs or report it, but you stay.

The police bust it. This won’t stop you from being arrested, but will it be enough to prosecte you? Or convict you? So right now we have three things:


So you could string along the cops and they would probably arrest even if they knew they had nothing to convict. Why? To scare you or teach you a lesson.

The man pretending to chat up a girl? Well again, it won’t keep you from being arrest, but in general you only get arrested in cases like chatting up an underage minor AFTER you attempt to make contact. If you set up a date and fail to show, it usually is dropped, because you can always claim you were just foolin’ around and had no intention of going through with it.

The DA or GJ is likely to not persue any charge, 'cause it’s a waste of time.

So getting prosecuted is less likely than getting arrested. And getting convicted is less likely than being convicted

And, how would this play with the jury? “Yes, we talked about hooking up and having sex, but I really knew all along it wasn’t a 12 year old kid, but a police officer, and I was just fooling around. Please don’t throw me in the hoosegow.”

This American Life had an interesting story of a bait car. This is a car that police leave the windows open and the key in the ignition in order to see if they can get someone to steal it.

This car was parked on a quiet street in Austin, and the person living in the house where this car was parked in front of called the police who refused to do anything. After a few days, this person entered the car with his girl friend looking to see if they could figure out who the owner was. They even tried opening the trunk (which is where the video and audio recording equipment was located. You can hear them on the tape looking through the interior of the car and discussing the fact they can’t find anything with an owner’s name on it.

They were both charged with breaking and entering and an attempt to steal the car. The man ended up pleading “no contest” and his girl friend couldn’t get a job working with children because of this arrest on her record (even though she was never charged).

But that’s not the point of the thread. The point is, what if you were just jerking a cop’s chain, and they arrested you, not for molesting a minor but for interfering with an ongoing investigation?