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Sting Operations, Undercover Agents and Entrapment

63 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2003  

Bruce L. Hay

Harvard Law School

Date Written: October 2003


This paper undertakes an economic analysis of "sting" operations, in which the authorities induce, or tempt, an individual to commit a crime or comparable rule violation. The paper considers the rationales for this law enforcement technique, including its potential advantages over alternative techniques such as ex post apprehension of offenders. Two functions of sting operations are emphasized and analyzed: (1) the informational function of identifying likely offenders; and (2) the behavioral function of deterring offenses. The paper examines the tensions between these functions, and offers a model of desirable sting operation policy.

JEL Classification: K0, K4

Suggested Citation

Hay, Bruce L., Sting Operations, Undercover Agents and Entrapment (October 2003). Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 441. Available at SSRN: or

Bruce Hay (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-8277 (Phone)

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