Thought Crime?

My fiance and I were having an argument about the what isa legitimate bust for what I refer to as “thought crime”

(See “entrapemnt on the web”- I’m taking some from that)

Example one:

Adult policewoman lures pedo with internet conversations to meet with her. He goes to meet her, there is no underage person present anywhere. He’s busted. For what? THINKING he was going to meet an underage person that doesn’t exist? How is that valid?


I offer you oregano and call it pot, you pay me for it, thinking it is. Can you be busted for THINKING you were buying pot? Is this any different from example 1? How?


You offer me money to kill your wife. The very act of making the offer is a crime, is it not? A completely different scenario.


You are a cop with a truck full of television boxes loaded with dirt. You tell everyone in the neighborhood that the truck is open with tvs hanging out the back, ripe for the picking. Everyone goes and snags a box marked “TV”. Can these people be busted for THINKING they were stealing televisions? Or could they only be busted for stealing boxes full of dirt?


Cops pose as buyers of stolen goods. You offer to sell them some. You have committed a crime in possessing and attempting to sell the goods. (My hunny thought I disagreed with this example for some reason)

Is it a crime in the US to THINK about having sex with a child?
Is it crime to THINK you are buying pot?
Is it a crime to THINK you are stealing a TV set?

Can anyone think of other examples where no true crime was actually committed, but the “perpetrator” THOUGHT they were committing a crime and could be busted for it?

I’d REALLY like to hear from cops and lawyers on this one.

This is a non-smoking area. If we see you smoking, we will assume you are on fire and act accordingly.

I wonder if intent has anything to do with it.

If you’re just sitting around thinking about doing something illegal, that’s not a public concern. But if you take actions with the intent of doing something illegal, it IS a public concern. In each of your examples, the person demonstrated an intent to break the law, which goes beyond just thinking about it.

I’m not a lawyer or a cop, but I imagine that if a person takes actions that demonstrate an intent to commit a crime, the laws are written to allow cops to make an arrest. To me, this would make sense.

Yeah, but how much of what goes on is leading?..I mean did the cop have cyber-sex with the guy?..Would he be charged with that? And how willing was she to meet him?..Did they kind of lead him on?..I do seem to recall that it’s illegal for anyone to pose as an underage person in porn pics. You can’t imply that the person is underage…even if they aren’t. And let’s not forget about all those “nudist” sites out there?..Are they porn?..or art?..This is a very grey area. I think so far, the cops have maybe only caught the real scumbags, but eventually, they’re gonna get someone that’s borderline and the whole thing is going to have to be debated, and firm guidlines set.

I haven’t lost my mind, I have a tape backup around somewhere.

It’s not a crime to think about any of this stuff. The criminal part comes into play because you have acted upon those thoughts. By offering you a fake crime to commit, you are prevented from committing a real crime and causing real harm.

There’s a big difference between “Gee, it would really be nice to boff a 12-year-old girl” and “I’m going out to boff a 12-year-old girl.” In discussing the act with the policewoman on the Internet (from your example) and then going out to meet her, thinking she’s a 12-yr-old, you are in effect commiting an illegal act. If the girl had been there, you would have gone through with your plan and been guilty of statutory rape and a bunch of other things.

The same thing goes for the weed example. You’re actively trying to buy pot. That’s a crime. You’re busted.

Both of these are examples of what is called a sting – potential offenders are tempted to break the law, and are arrested if they do. It’s a somewhat controversial form of law enforcement. The rationale is that it’s better to set up a controlled situation and let you incriminate yourself, than to let you go out and make real trouble. Added to this is the fear that any illegal exchange like this might be a police sting – that fear will deter many potential offenders. Critics of stings say that it’s unreasonable to tempt weak people and expect them to do anything other than break the law.

I think about doing illegal things from time to time. These range from misdemeanors all the way to what the UN would call “crimes against humanity.” Am I depraved? Yes. But I don’t commit any of these acts. Thus, am I a criminal? No.

Stings are rarely targeted at individuals. Only when a person seeks to commit a really nasty crime, and the police find out, that individual stings are done. The best examlpe of this is when somebody wants to pay for the murder of somebody else. The police get wind of this plan, and have an officer pose as an assassin. Usually though, stings are “in-place” operations – the police set out the bait, and grab the people who take it.

–Da Cap’n

Well, here’s a monkey-wrench for ya:

Say I’m getting all gooey online with some jail-bait. I make plans to meet the young lady to make a woman out of her.

Alas, I am arrested when I go to the appointed meeting place, the 12 year old lolita being a 32 year old Vice cop.

But in my possession is a letter that I was going to read to the girl, saying how this was wrong, I was sorry, and that I was going to seek counselling for my dirty thoughts, and she should be careful of those like me she would encounter on-line.

Now then, this shows (and of course, I back this up in my testimony) that I was meeting the 12 year old not to boff her, but to rebuff her - surely not against the law, even in an enlightened jusistiction such as North Carolina.

Oh sure, maybe I was going to boff her, but the letter shows that my intentions changed between setting up meeting and actual meeting.

Or did they? Maybe I, being a smart pedophile, knows all about this “entrapment” and have the letter there just in case! Of course they can’t prove this, and of course I wouldn’t admit it, but that’s a distinct possibility as well!

So what happens in this situation?

Hurry up and answer, as I have a hot date coming up.

(Do I really have to say that I’m kidding here, or is it as obvious as I hope?)

Yer pal,

I almost hate to say this, but good point Satan.

But let’s take it one step further…you’re a smart guy…so you take your handy laptop with you…right before you meeting, you send an e-mail message to “her” account stating the above…that you’re sick for thinking about this…yada yada yada…and that while you hope she receives this e-mail in time, you’ll show up at the meeting place just in case to explain yourself…and send it about 10 minutes before you’re due to meet her. Now you might be able to claim the above defense, since the date/time mark on the e-mail message would show that you did indeed send it before the meeting…I hope we’re not giving any potential pedo’s any ideas here…

I haven’t lost my mind, I have a tape backup around somewhere.


First off, “thought crime” is strictly from your Orwellian negative utopia philosophy. Leave this idea on the bookshelf with 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. It has no relevancy to present criminal law.

Mens rea (“guilty mind”), is the concept we’re trying to focus on here. It includes the defendant’s intent,as mentioned by previous posters. In combination with the actus reus (“guilty act”) will be the definition of a criminal act.

That’s a thumbnail version of what we covered in the academy concerning legal definition of a crime. There are more parts concerning the elements which have to be present and the concurrence of act and intent. But that’s a basic overview.

“Thought crime” or “mens rea”, in and of itself, is never a criminal action. Combination of action and intent, may be. Notice, nothing is mentioned about whether or not it is oregano or grass; TVs or dirt; policewoman or 14-year old cheerleader. It is the action along with intent that makes up the body of the crime.

Hell, I’m guilty of a hoopful of thought crimes every day, as I’m sure many people are. The day we actually prosecute thought crime is the day I turn in my badge. :slight_smile:

“…send lawyers, guns, and money…”

 Warren Zevon

In the pedophile case, I’m also thinking of the hapless, well-meaning soul who might attempt on his own what I’ve seen done on ‘tabloid tv’ – a squad of cybercops trolls the internet actually looking for underage persons (or those who say they are) who indicate (whether or not after considerable dialogue) that they are willing to meet the ‘adult’ for sex. The cops track the child and determine he/she really is underage. They set up a meet, then lay a big sermon on him/her about meeting people on the net. Now, just suppose your typical, well-meaning, Bible-believing nudnik has a similar encounter, goes to the meeting to introduce his erstwhile partner to ‘his friend, Jesus’ – and ends up tagged a pedophile?

Also, the whole thought crime issue reminds me of how a conspiracy was (allegedly) defined by the Nixon era justice department: if you decide to rob the gumball machine in front of the corner drugstore and do, you’ve committed a misdemeanor. If you discuss robbing the gumball machine with two other friends, but then don’t, you’ve committed the felony of criminal conspiracy . . .

In the case of a person stealin a box full of dirt (with the word TV on it):
I imagine that they can be found guilty of exactly that, stealing a box of dirt.

Adult policewoman lures pedo with internet conversations to meet with her. He goes to meet her, there is no underage person present anywhere. He’s busted.

First of all, my understanding is that the police have to let the other person do the “luring”. Of course, how much is invitation to commit a crime and how much is solicitation by the criminal may be hard to determine. I thought that when the person showed up, they had to make some other lascivious suggestions/comments before they could be arrested. Otherwise someone could do as Satan suggested and bring a letter disavowing what they had previously said to the young person. In any case, you would have to convince a jury that you changed your mind and were not going to have sex with the person after all.

Same thing with an arrest for drug trafficking, the arrest happens **after[/] money has changed hands, not before.

You offer me money to kill your wife. The very act of making the offer is a crime, is it not? A completely different scenario.

Yes, but you can think about it all you want.

Jacques Kilchoer
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Thought Crime are, indeed, prosecuted pretty regularly. Watch Dateline NBC some night.

TRUE CASE #1: A guy in Orlando would go into chat rooms, pretending to be a 12-year-old Lolita, and get men to come to Tampa to meet “her.” As soon as the guy gets off the plane at Tampa, he’s busted. I know they’ve nabbed a few of the seedy, shifty-eyed types that we all think pedophiles look like, but they also nabbed a well-respected lawyer type from the East Coast somewhere. He’s fighting it tooth and nail, and frankly, I hope he wins. NO, I don’t support pedophilia, but AFIAC the guy got shafted. I don’t know of any law in any state that makes it a crime to “think” you’re going to get some, whether your paramour is 12 or 20.

TRUE CASE #2: The IL Dept. of Conservation puts up a stuffed deer on the side of the road, a few days before deer season. A couple of rednecks (or the Illinois version) see it, pull of the side of the road, and shoot it. Busted. Again, it’s not a crime to shoot a stuffed deer any time of the year.

TRUE CASE #3: The thousands of drug busts that go on every day. In these cases, don’t the perpetrators actually BUY REAL DRUGS? I mean, the cop hands the perp a bag of real dope, the perp hands the cop the cash. Busted. If they could prosecute based solely on intent, wouldn’t the cops sell oregano?

But, let’s take this discussion a step further. Imagine that I (an Anglo) rob a black man at gunpoint - armed robbery, right? But if I call him “nigger” while I’m doing it, I’ve voilated his civil rights and thus commited a “hate crime,” thus making my crime worse to the tune of 10-20 years. AFAIAC, current hate crime legislation IS thought crime, even if the above examples aren’t.

My $.02

Well, I’ll only answer to #2 above. Virginia has been known to pull the same trick, but what they’re busting these guys for is not hunting out of season. They’re nailing hunters for discharging a firearm within a quarter mile of a state-maintained road.

And there’s good reason for this. Most residences–and people–in the state are within that distance of a road, maybe just beyond the tree line. The fact that you’re hunting out of season is cheerfully pointed out, but you’re already in a heap o’ trouble, boah.

Note that one further requirement for conviction in these cases is that the accused has to have made the first overt crossing of the line into criminal territory. The state cannot first invite you to commit a crime and then prosecute you for it (that’s “entrapment”); it can only open a door and watch to see who goes in.

Which makes me very suspicious about this oh-so-innocent lawyer.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Satan postulates:

A similar idea was tried in two recent cases. In one case, the pedophile said that he was collecting case study data for a book/research paper he was working on. This was his excuse for trying to explain all the child-porn pictures he had on his hard drive.

The other case, which I read about just this week, had the guy explaining that he was trying to set up his own sting operation. He said that he told AOL about his “plan.” Unfortunately for him, there seems to be no evidence of his sting operation other than what was in his head.

The point is, I don’t think a back door excuse or alibi will carry much (if any) weight with law enforcement when it comes to attempted molestation. I’m sure they know all the tricks pedophiles may use to try to justify or excuse their actions or intentions.

As for the stuffed deer incident, my neighbor got nailed for it last year. It is for discharging a firearm within a certain distance of the road, and sometimes trespassing. The Dept. Env. Cons. always sets it up with the landowner just a day or two before they do it. My neighbor got a nice big fine, laughed my a$$ off. Worse yet his two kids, young teens, were in the truck with him when it happened. Also get this, he owns an archery shop and, up until they took it away from him, was the local man who taught the hunter safety courses which is required to get hunting license in NY state. On the down side I’m related to him by marriage, still though funny as he!!. Got what he deserved.

Stoid, the people in your OP were not just thinking about committing crimes, they were attempting to commit crimes; a major difference from a legal standpoint. The fact that none of these crimes had any chance of succeeding (due to being police set-ups) does not alter the fact that they expected them to succeed.

When these people appear in court they can attempt to use some variation of Satan’s defense; ie that they would have backed off at the last second. If they can convince a jury of their sincerity they may be found not guilty.

There are some cases that do enter the gray area between thought and attempt. For example in some areas it is illegal to own unauthorized lock picking tools because the local law considers that as intent to commit burglary or it might be illegal to buy certain chemicals without authorization because they are used to manufacture illegal drugs.

I don’t know if you are discussing the recent Seattle case in your first example. But from what I’ve read, the suspect did state (via email) his intent to have sex with the “girl” when he met her, he was aware of her supposed age, he was aware what he was doing was illegal, and he was the one who suggested they meet. Apparently he also had a documented history of trying to meet underage girls online prior to the FBI involvement which is another legal standard to avoid claims of entrapment.

Here’s something to think about.

Man (23 years old or so) goes to have sex with a girl he met online. He supposedly thinks this girl is 18, and according to all back e-mail that he has from the girl, her online chat profile, etc., the girl always claimed to be 18. She’s really 13. Her father finds out about the meeting that’s about to occur, and calls the police to intercept the guy as he arrives at the designated meeting place.

Can this guy get busted?

To respond to Drain Bead’s hypothetical situation:

I’m no legal expert, but I imagine that the case cited would not be different in principle than the cases mentioned above. If the accused could convince a judge/jury that someone could reasonably believe the girl was of age to consent to a sexual relationship, then there’s no crime.

Jacques Kilchoer
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

So we’re back to thought crime. if she’s really 20, but for the fun of it, and to give him a thrill, she tells him she’s 15, and he buys it and screws her…he’s committed a crime??? I can’t believe that, it’s insane.

These things might actually be getting through, but the logic behind them is nuts.

This is a non-smoking area. If we see you smoking, we will assume you are on fire and act accordingly.

I’ve heard of things similar to this, although I don’t know the details. What I always wondered was: how is this any different from the pedophile who does the same thing? In both cases, you have an adult luring a minor into a real life meeting, in both cases there was sexual innuendo and so forth before hand. In one case, the pedophile gets arrested when he meets the (possibly fictitious) minor, and in the other presumably the undercover officers do not.

Of course there is a difference in intent - the cops don’t really intend to have sex with the minor; their purpose is to warn the minor against this sort of thing. But is that the entire deal? I know nothing about law, but I guess that it wouldn’t be much of a defense for a real pedophile to say, “Oh, we talked about sex but that wasn’t my intent when we met, honest!”. But wouldn’t that basically be the same thing the undercover officers would say?

I wonder if undercover officers ever fall info each others’ traps :-). Like you have one who’s out to bust pedophiles by talking to them in chat rooms first, and another who’s out to warn at-risk teens about pedophiles, and they end up meeting online and setting up a meeting. That’d be kinda funny.

peas on earth

Well, if I were a pedophile, I don’t think I’d feel very secure in using the defenses you’d’ve given me. But, what about this new law against giving pedophiles defenses? :wink: (There must be one, since such things get politicians elected when nothing else will.)

In most of the examples, I think the charge would have to be attempted whatever; but in the case of the pedophile crossing state lines to commit a felony, if the evidence of his intent in crossing state lines (in the case mentioned, those between WA & OR and OR & CA) is sufficient, and no elements of true entrapment are present, I don’t think any info on what he did after once he had left WA airspace would be necessary to convict him of this state-line-crossing federal law, not that I really believe this law is a good model for a law.

And the local laws mentioned, about possession of this or that are violated simply once the defendent possesses that thing or substance, regardless of evidence or lack thereof as to what he was going to do with such; but absent sufficient additional evidence to charge attempted whatever, of course, no additional charge should be filed.

Of course, whatever’s actually done these days by law enforcement and court action in the US, doesn’t have to meet any reasonable or legal standards; it just has to support the legal professiona and get politicians elected. Hey, a criminal prosecutor is supposed to both represent justice and adversarially prosecute. If he lies through his teeth in prosecuting, the worst he can do is lose his case; no one locks him up, no matter how foul the results of his lies turn out to have been if they’re later revealed. And justice in the US is mostly just a matter of how much money the accused can lay down. Cops and lawyers will tell you that, if not judges.

Ray (never guilty of taking, and no evidence of ever having taken, a course in law)