Compliance Resources

Offices of the US Attorneys Criminal Resource Manual



645. Entrapment—Elements

Entrapment is a complete defense to a criminal charge, on the theory that “Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 548 (1992). A valid entrapment defense has two related elements: (1) government inducement of the crime, and (2) the defendant’s lack of predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct. Mathews v. United States, 485 U.S. 58, 63 (1988). Of the two elements, predisposition is by far the more important.

Inducement is the threshold issue in the entrapment defense. Mere solicitation to commit a crime is not inducement. Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435, 451 (1932). Nor does the government’s use of artifice, stratagem, pretense, or deceit establish inducement. Id. at 441. Rather, inducement requires a showing of at least persuasion or mild coercion, United States v. Nations, 764 F.2d 1073, 1080 (5th Cir. 1985); pleas based on need, sympathy, or friendship, ibid.; or extraordinary promises of the sort “that would blind the ordinary person to his legal duties,” United States v. Evans, 924 F.2d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1991). See also United States v. Kelly, 748 F.2d 691, 698 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (inducement shown only if government’s behavior was such that “a law-abiding citizen’s will to obey the law could have been overborne”); United States v. Johnson, 872 F.2d 612, 620 (5th Cir. 1989) (inducement shown if government created “a substantial risk that an offense would be committed by a person other than one ready to commit it”).

Even if inducement has been shown, a finding of predisposition is fatal to an entrapment defense. The predisposition inquiry focuses upon whether the defendant “was an unwary innocent or, instead, an unwary criminal who readily availed himself of the opportunity to perpetrate the crime.” Mathews, 485 U.S. at 63. Thus, predisposition should not be confused with intent or means rea: a person may have the requisite intent to commit the crime, yet be entrapped. Also, predisposition may exist even in the absence of prior criminal involvement: “the ready commission of the criminal act,” such as where a defendant promptly accepts an undercover agent’s offer of an opportunity to buy or sell drugs, may itself establish predisposition. Jacobson, 503 U.S. at 550.

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646. Recent Entrapment Cases

The two most recent Supreme Court cases on the entrapment defense are Mathews v. United States, 485 U.S. 58, 63 (1988) and Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 548 (1992). In Mathews, 485 U.S. at 62, the Court held that a defendant who denies commission of the crime is entitled to an entrapment instruction as long as there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find entrapment. Thus, a defendant may raise inconsistent defenses, arguing that he did not commit the crime but that, if he did commit it, he was entrapped.

Although entrapment is generally a jury question, Mathews, 485 U.S. at 63, the Court found entrapment as a matter of law in Jacobson, 503 U.S. at 550, where the defendant ordered child pornography after “he had already been the target of 26 months of repeated mailings and communications from Government agents and fictitious organizations.” In the Court’s view, the government had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jacobson’s predisposition “was independent and not the product of the attention that the [g]overnment had directed at [him][.]” Ibid. The unusual facts of Jacobson make it distinguishable from most sting operations, which involve fewer contacts with a defendant over a shorter period of time. Also, the Jacobson Court confirmed that its analysis was not “an innovation in entrapment law[.]” Id. at 549 n. 2.

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647. Entrapment—Proving Predisposition

A defendant who claims that he was entrapped opens himself to “an appropriate and searching inquiry into his own conduct and predisposition as bearing upon that issue.” Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435, 451 (1932). Thus, predisposition may be shown by evidence of other crimes that might not otherwise be admissible. And, although Jacobson’s focus on the government’s duty to show that the defendant was disposed to commit the crime “prior to first being approached by [g]overnment agents” (Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 549 (1992)) seems to cast doubt on the admissibility of evidence of subsequent crimes to show predisposition (as in United States v. Posner, 865 F.2d 654 (5th Cir. 1989); United States v. Warren, 453 F.2d 738 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 944 (1972)), it is fair to argue that such evidence is admissible under Jacobson as long as the subsequent crimes were “independent and not the product of the attention that the [g]overnment had directed” at the defendant (503 U.S. at 550).

In the wake of Jacobson, entrapment instructions have engendered much litigation, despite the Jacobson majority’s insistence that it was not altering traditional entrapment concepts. It is important that instructions be accurate statements of the law as articulated in Jacobson. (At least one circuit — the Ninth — has found its own pattern instruction on entrapment to be plain error under Jacobson.)

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648. Entrapment—Outrageous Government Conduct

While the essence of the entrapment defense is the defendant’s lack of predisposition to commit the offense, the “defense” of outrageous government conduct presupposes predisposition but seeks dismissal of the indictment on the ground that the conduct of law enforcement agents was “so outrageous that due process principles would absolutely bar the government from invoking judicial process to obtain a conviction.” United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 431-32 (1973). Thus, the outrageous government conduct defense is not really a defense at all. Rather, it is a claim that the institution of the prosecution suffers from a purely legal defect; as such, the claim is waived unless raised prior to trial under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(1) and (b)(2). See, e.g., United States v. Henderson-Durand, 985 F.2d 970, 973 & n. 5 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 856 (1993); United States v. Duncan, 896 F.2d 271, 274 (7th Cir. 1990); United States v. Nunez-Rios, 622 F.2d 1093, 1099 (2d Cir. 1980).

The Supreme Court has never held that the government’s mere use of undercover agents or informants, or the use of deception by them, gives rise to a due process violation, although in Russell it left open that possibility. The requisite level of outrageousness could be reached only where government conduct is so fundamentally unfair as to be “shocking to the universal sense of justice.” Id. at 432. No court of appeals has held that a predisposed defendant may establish a due process violation simply because he purportedly was induced to commit the crime by an undercover agent or informant. See, e.g., United States v. Pedraza, 27 F.3d 1515, 1521 (10th Cir.) (not outrageous for government “to infiltrate an ongoing criminal enterprise, or to induce a defendant to repeat, continue, or even expand criminal activity.”), cert. denied, 115 S. Ct. 347 (1994).

Defendants who claim to be victims of outrageous government conduct sometimes also argue that the district court should dismiss the indictment in the exercise of its supervisory power. In the absence of a due process violation, however, a district court has no authority to dismiss an indictment on this basis. See, e.g., United States v. Simpson, 927 F.2d 1088, 1090 (9th Cir. 1991).

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