United States v. Darren Lasley, 2023 WL 5421626 (8th Cir. 2023)
A detective posted a message on Craigslist’s Casual Encounters section, a section used for people to arrange sexual encounters. Users were required to confirm they were at least 18 years old before posting an advertisement. Using the alias “Abigail” and identifying as a 14-year-old girl, the detective posted: “Home alone and bored – w4m, Heyy guys out of school for the summer and soooo bored : ( just lookiing for some cool boys to chat with…HMU if your not crazy lol .”
Darren Lasley responded, asking Abigail whether she was in college. The detective replied that she was “getting ready to start high school finally :).” Abigail stated she was 14 years old. Lasley was the first to raise the topic of unlawful sexual activity, suggesting “fingering” and “giving head.” The detective sent Lasley a low-quality photograph of a Sheriff’s Office employee who was 24 years old. When Lasley responded that Abigail didn’t look 14, Abigail responded, “yep 14 I am.”
Just over a week after the initial message, Abigail offered to meet Lasley. Abigail stated her mother was asleep and that she could sneak out and meet at a gas station. She provided the address. When Lasley arrived at the gas station, Abigail messaged him that she had given him the wrong address, before providing him the address of a gas station on the other side of the highway. When Lasley drove there, officers arrested him.
The detective did not make any fraudulent representations or threats; use any coercive tactics or harassment; promise any reward; or plead with Lasley to act based on need, sympathy or friendship.
Lasley asked the trial court to instruct the jury on the affirmative defense of entrapment. The court refused and Lasley appealed the decision. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court judgment. The detective posing as Abigail gave Lasley “an opportunity to entice an arguably sexually precocious minor whose appearance was arguably more mature than average.” When Lasley responded, he was the first to talk about sexual acts. Though the detective engaged in a lengthy messaging exchange with Lasley, the detective did not use any tactics typically associated with entrapment. He did not pressure Lasley or assure him he was doing nothing wrong by discussing sex with Abigail, nor did the detective persuade Lasley to continue the sexual dialogue. The detective did not make any fraudulent representations or threats; use any coercive tactics or harassment; promise any reward; or plead with Lasley to act based on need, sympathy or friendship.
Lasley claimed he was misled by the photograph of the 24-year-old and by Abigail’s claim to have engaged in sexual relations with a 35-year-old neighbor. The court responded, “While portrayal of a minor as ‘sexually precocious’ can be a relevant factor in the analysis, such a depiction by itself is not sufficient evidence of inducement.” The appellate court held there was no entrapment; the detective did not impermissibly induce Lasley to commit a crime. The trial judge imposed a 10-year sentence for Lasley to consider the difference between enticement and entrapment.