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I was watching the Hansen vs predator series.

In there a random guy called Chris Hansen goes online and pretends to be a 13 years old girl.

When people chat with him, he tries to steer the discussion on a sexual level ("I'm just coming out of the shower", etc.).

Then he lures them into his house, where there is a real life decoy (a 19 years old girl).

After some talking, the decoy goes away and Chris Hansen appears.

He then starts to question them, and then he "let them go" out of the garage where the police arrests them.

They are charged with "criminal attempt to commit risk of injury to a minor".

My understanding is that Chris Hansen is a total random guy who does not work for the government. That is, he is not an undercover police agent.

Question: Can Chris Hansen's interrogation, carried out without Miranda warnings, be used against the suspect in a criminal trial?

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  • Where in the question does it way the police interviewed Hansen without a Miranda Warning? Or are you talking about the questions Hansen asked to the man who turned up at the garage looking for a child?
    – user35069
    Jan 24, 2023 at 8:14
  • @Rick I'm talking about the questions Hansen asked to the man who turned up at the garage looking for a child Jan 24, 2023 at 8:19
  • If the police reliably show up when he pulls this ploy, any competent lawyer will be able to establish in court that he's acting as an agent of the police and under the same restrictions. (Otherwise the cops could just hire someone whenever they wanted to violate your rights.)
    – Mary
    Jan 25, 2023 at 0:31
  • @Mary: so the answer to my question is "no"? He is acting under the same restrictions of the police, and he doesn't give Miranda warnings, so his questioning is not admissible in court? Is this what you are trying to say? Jan 25, 2023 at 8:14
  • @robertspierre he wasn't under arrest so check what the police can do
    – Mary
    Jan 25, 2023 at 13:26

3 Answers 3

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It's not an interrogation

Nothing makes Mr. Hansen a police investigator. He is a private person talking with another private person. His testimony or the recording of the interview might or might not be admissible in trial, that's for the court to decide. But Miranda warnings are only needed when you are under arrest or when you are in a custodial interrogation.

Hansen, agent of the police?

There's arguments that Hansen might or might not have acted as an agent of the police, and in one case he was deputized. However, that does not change that for Miranda you need an arrest or custodial interrogation (e.g. where one is not free to leave). As far as I am aware, none of the people interviewed was in such a situation and technically free to go at any time - making Miranda not required.

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  • Indeed, police routinely use undercover agents to elicit incriminating statements from suspects. It might be more fruitful for the defendant to argue entrapment.
    – phoog
    Jun 26, 2023 at 10:24
  • In the first two "To Catch a Predator" specials, Dateline was not coordinating with the cops, so they couldn't arrest them on scene. They turned over the chat logs prior to the episodes going to air and let the cops handle the matter.
    – hszmv
    Jun 26, 2023 at 12:52
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It would be treated as normal hearsay and admissibility would be determined as per the normal rules of evidence. And if used as a party admission, it may be admissible outside of the hearsay rubric altogether.

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    Hansen's questioning of the defendant is only hearsay if the prosecutor tries to introduce it through Hansen's testimony. If there's a recording, which there surely is, it's an entirely different matter.
    – phoog
    Jun 26, 2023 at 10:27
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    @phoog yes it's recorded to be transmitted on TV Jun 26, 2023 at 14:17
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Hansen vs. Predator is similar to Hansen's Famous mid-2000s era report series for Datline NBC called "To Catch a Predator" which was originally started to alert parents to the then new technology of Online Chat rooms and the threat of sexual predators targeting minors online. The reports were wildly popular at the time as each one had an unstaged "Just when we thought we've seen it all" moment where the production crew is shocked by the situation unfolding (one of the first was a man who got caught twice in the same sting. Another memorable moment was a man who was caught in two separate stings (he was on bail for the first one when he got picked up in the second one)).

The methods are largely the same. Hansen himself does not pose as the child in the chat room, as many of the suspects engage sometime prior to the sting operation. Those posing as children are typically volunteers with non-profit organizations that were dedicated to finding people who were targeting children. They also are not approached by the men first and only entice further once they are engaged by someone and repeatedly make the decoy age known to the suspect. It should also be noted that the crime most of the suspects are prosecuted for are related to the online conversation and police do not need them to show up at the house. The benefit is they do not have to track down the suspect AND by showing up at the house, they show further intent. With exception to the first two Dateline reports, the police are always working in conjunction with Hansen's staff and the non-profit (In the case of the first two, Hansen's team did turn over all evidence to the cops following the sting, however, that guy who got caught twice in the same sting convinced the team to do this with the help of local police, who had been skeptical up until the first few shows aired.).

At the time the actual interview is made, the suspect is not under arrest ("But he soon will be.") and Hansen presents himself as a stern authority figure and instructs the suspect to "have a seat right there" and proceeds to interview them. Hansen will tell the truth if he's asked if he is a cop ("I'm not a cop.") but will dodge the issue of who he is otherwise ("We'll talk about that in a minute."). Typically, the suspect, on hearing that Hansen isn't a cop, assume he's the decoy's parent. By the third entry into the "To Catch a Predator" series, a handful of suspects will recognize Hansen on sight and react in various ways (some run without question, others will cry or scream in terror, more than one admit they watched previous entries in the series and will act almost like fanboys meeting their idol.). At either rate, when Hansen is finished with the interview, he'll tell the ones who don't know what's happening who he is ("I'm Chris Hansen with [Show name]") as the camera crew comes out and reveals this is going to be broadcast on national TV. He offers them a chance to give some final comments now knowing everything is taped and the directs them to leave the house ("You are free to go") which the predator will take up on the offer ("But he won't get very far") at which point the suspect is swarmed by the police and arrested and Mirandized.

Because Hansen is a private citizen (with one exception, where the county sheriff's office deputized Hansen's team because state law required all operations of a sting be conducted by Law Enforcement Officers (LEO)) and at no point during the show the interview is the suspect under arrest. Additionally, he is not in violation of 2 party consent to recording in states with such laws because all 2 party consent laws make exceptions if the recording features a party to the conversation discussing their participation in a crime AND are only good when one has a reasonable expectation to privacy, which they don't have on someone else's property. The portions of the show where the suspect is talking to the real cops is also legal to use as the recordings are released to the public as part of the open trial requirements, and are by law public domain upon creation as are all government documents in the United States.

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  • If he calls a person a predator on national tv when that person has not been convicted of anything he opens himself up to libel issues.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 24, 2023 at 17:39
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    Predator is not a legally defined term, based on the evidence that he presents in the form of the limited excerpts from transcripts and the interview. He also specifies what charges the suspects are actually arrested for and, if known prior to deadline, who plead what (the vast majority enter into a plea deal because the combination of the transcript and the unedited footage shot during the interview, which is admissible evidence.)
    – hszmv
    Jan 24, 2023 at 17:45

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