Police Department Accused of Entrapment in Drug Sting Involving Autistic Teenager

300px-Arrest.svg.pngA school district and police department have been the subject of widespread criticism because of a drug sting at a high school that resulted in multiple arrests. One of the arrested students, Jesse Snodgrass, is autistic, and states that an undercover officer posing as a student entrapped him into obtaining drugs. The case may seem like something out of a movie, but it is a familiar reality in schools around the country. Entrapment, in which a law enforcement officer induces someone to engage in illegal activity, is not uncommon as a tactic in undercover drug investigations.

Extensive reporting in the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone detail how a student named Dan at Chaparral High School in Temecula, California befriended Snodgrass in 2012. The 17-year-old Snodgrass had recently transferred to the school and had difficulty making friends because of his condition. Dan began asking Snodgrass to get him some marijuana, sending him dozens of text messages with increasing pressure. Snodgrass finally agreed to buy less than a gram of marijuana with money Dan had given him. On the morning of December 11, 2012, deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department arrested Snodgrass in class. “Dan” was actually an undercover police officer who was part of a sting operation that resulted in the arrest of 22 students at two Temecula high schools.

Snodgrass was expelled from Chaparral High School, but a state administrative law judge overturned that decision, holding that his actions were a “manifestation of his disability.” Matter of Parent o/b/o Student, No. 2013010255, exp. dec. at 18 (Cal. OAH, Mar. 8, 2013). A judge dismissed the criminal case against Snodgrass six months after his arrest with no charges filed.

In late 2013, Snodgrass and his parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, the sheriff’s office, and several school officials. Snodgrass v. Temecula Valley Unified Sch. Dist., et al, No. MCC1301624, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., Riverside Co., Oct. 30, 2013). The school district has filed a cross-complaint against the county and the sheriff’s department, arguing that it was only passively involved in any “alleged unconstitutional entrapment, search, and seizure,” and that it therefore should not be held liable for any damages. Snodgrass, cross-complaint at 3 (Cal. Super. Ct., Riverside Co., Apr. 28, 2014).

All accounts of Snodgrass’ story indicate that his autism is apparent from his “demeanor and speech,” and this factor appears to have played a significant role in the dismissal of his criminal case. His situation is a classic case of entrapment, which is a defense to prosecution based on the assertion that a defendant would not have committed an offense but for inducement to do so by a law enforcement officer.

In Texas, a defendant making an entrapment argument must show that an officer used “persuasion or other means” to induce him or her to commit an offense, but the officer must have done more than merely giving the defendant the opportunity to do so. Tex. Pen. Code ยง 8.06. The state used to be able to overcome this defense by showing that a defendant had a “predisposition” to commit the charged offense, such as if the defendant already had a record of drug offenses, but this no longer applies in Texas. Rodriguez v. State, 662 S.W.2d 352, 355 (Tex. Crim. App. 1984).

Michael J. Brown, a dedicated criminal defense attorney, has fought for the rights of West Texas defendants for more than 20 years. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Texas Man Faces Possible Life Sentence for Marijuana Brownies Under Odd Feature of State Law, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 27, 2014
Texas Court Rejects Entrapment Defense in Drug Case, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2013
Marijuana Smell Not Enough to Justify Warrantless Entry into Home, According to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 17, 2013
Photo credit: By Abu badali, based on public domain Aiga’s icons. [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.