Avoiding sting of underage drinking

Before I begin, I’d like everyone to take a moment to peruse the following definition from Black’s Law Dictionary. Refer back to it when necessary.

Entrapment. The act of officers or agents of the government in inducing a person to commit a crime not contemplated by him, for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against him … employing methods of persuasion or inducement which create a substantial risk that such an offense will be committed by persons other than those who are ready to commit it.”

A couple of weekends ago I was walking out of U Liquors in Stadium Village, 12-pack of Heineken in hand, when a nubile young lady approached me in the parking lot. It was dark; she looked about 19 … could’ve been 20.
“Hey — could you do me a favor?” she asked coyly. “Could you buy a six-pack of beer for me?”
I laughed.
“I’d rather set my hair afire,” I said truculently, and walked away.
This scene could have played out much differently.
Flash back a few minutes earlier: I’m standing in line, waiting to pay for my beer. The following dialogue ensues.
Cashier No. 1, a tall, dark-haired male, late 20s: “Did you see they have a police decoy out there?”
Cashier No. 2, a mid-30s female — manager, I think: “Again, huh?”
Cashier No. 1: “Yeah, they got an underage girl out there asking people to buy for her. And the cops have a van parked in the Blockbuster lot.”
Like me, Cashier No. 1 was flabbergasted by the audacity of the little game that Minneapolis’ finest were playing. They had set a nifty trap into which anyone could easily fall — luckily, it was a ruse to which I was privy upon encountering the decoy.
But let’s imagine for a moment that I had not overheard that conversation. I walk outside, and our resident decoy — who looks about as innocent as Bambi; a typical undergraduate dorm-dweller — comes up to my unwitting self.
“Hey — could you do me a favor?” she asks coyly. “Could you buy a six-pack of beer for me?”
I stop. The following dialogue ensues.
Apparition No. 1, a six-inch-tall, white-clad angel on my left shoulder, bears my visage, addressing me: “Buying liquor for minors is an offense that carries serious consequences; you’re 26 and about to graduate with a clean record. Besides, if this girl’s got enough gall to approach you, she’ll approach somebody else. Let it go.”
Apparition No. 2, a six-inch-tall, red-clad devil on my right shoulder, also bears my visage, addressing me: “Oh come on, ya pansie … the poor thing just wants a six-pack; it’s not like she’s asking you to buy her a gallon of corn whiskey. Don’t you remember what it was like to be 20? Have some sympathy. Do it.”
Apparition No. 1: “You know there’s a chance of being caught for this, and besides, it’s the law …”
Apparition No. 2: “Aww, law-schmaw. Look at her! Cute as a button! Innocent as a lamb! And do you really think the fuzz has time for that kind of Tomfoolery?”
To which side of my conscience I would have listened, I don’t know. In such matters, I usually err on the side of caution, but my sometimes insubordinate nature and compassion for an underdog — in this case, a University student who just wanted to have a few beers on a Friday night — might have caused me to turn around and walk right into the trap.
And it’s not like I would have contributed to a night of underage Dionysian debauchery. She asked for a six-pack. At best, she would have taken the six beers back to her dorm to split with her roomie while watching “Felicity.” At worst, she would have quaffed the entire six-pack herself, stumbled around campus for awhile and awoken with an aching head. No harm, no foul.
The point is, I was thrust into a position that, unarmed with the knowledge that a booby trap was afoot, would have forced me to make a choice. It was an artificial situation — a subterfuge that put me at risk to break the law when I otherwise would not. It was — and I encourage you to revisit the definition at this time — entrapment. And it’s illegal.
Why should my better judgment be put on trial by a guileful police force, when life presents enough challenges of choice on its own? It’s asshole policing; pseudo-justice, preying not on the tendencies of otherwise nefarious criminals, but the momentary lapse of sensibility to which any good person is susceptible.
I’m not decrying the use of decoys across the board. Police officers posing as prostitutes nab only Johns whose intent is to solicit sex; decoy cars placed in high-crime areas attract only already reprobate auto thieves. These people have motives of personal gain, and are seeking to commit these crimes. Nobody has a motive or premeditated desire to buy liquor for a randomly encountered minor. Nobody.
The decoy in U Liquors’ parking lot was after someone — anyone — who would take the bait, including those who otherwise might be reluctant to do so.
And according to a police report published in Wednesday’s Minnesota Daily, 18 such unsuspecting people fell victim to this boondoggle in southeast and northeast Minneapolis since the program began April 1. These people face gross misdemeanor charges and a year in jail.
The decoy program is sponsored by the Minnesota Join Together Coalition, a subsidiary of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The coalition granted Minneapolis Police $5,000 to harass the general public and bait the unsuspecting into committing manufactured crimes. It’s despicable; I only hope that a savvy lawyer gets his or her hands on one of these cases and puts a stop to it.
And as for MADD’s tactics, well … that’s another column for another day.
In the meantime, spread the word of this fruitless, abhorrent operation. And if you are approached by a decoy, agree to buy the beer, walk inside and bag a six-pack of A&W. When the arresting officer discovers your innocuous purchase, tell him to quit wasting your time.
At least, that’s what I wish I had done.

Josh Dickey’s column appears on Tuesdays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]