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Law School Case Brief

Sherman v. United States - 356 U.S. 369, 78 S. Ct. 819 (1958)


Criminal activity is such that stealth and strategy are necessary weapons in the arsenal of the police officer. However, a different question is presented when the criminal design originates with the officials of the Government, and they implant in the mind of an innocent person the disposition to commit the alleged offense and induce its commission in order that they may prosecute. Then stealth and strategy become as objectionable police methods as the coerced confession and the unlawful search. Congress could not have intended that its statutes were to be enforced by tempting innocent persons into violations.


Petitioner Joseph George Sherman and a government informant named Kalchinian were both addicted to the use of narcotics. They became acquainted as a result of meeting several times in the office of the physician with whom they were consulting in an effort to cure their addiction and in the pharmacy to which they took their prescriptions to be filled. On one occasion, Sherman told Kalchinian that he was then purchasing drugs. Several times, Kalchinian requested an introduction to Sherman's supplier, but Sherman never arranged a meeting. However, Sherman sold narcotics to Kalchinian, which ostensibly came from Sherman's supplier. Kalchinian told federal authorities of these dealings and agents later witnessed transactions between Kalchinian and Sherman. After trial in federal district court, Sherman raised the defense of entrapment; the government proved he had twice before been convicted on narcotics charges. Sherman was convicted on charges of selling narcotics. On appeal, he court of appeals affirmed the conviction, holding, inter alia, that Sherman's prior convictions were admissible to negate his entrapment defense as evidence that he was predisposed to commit the offenses charged. Sherman was granted a writ of certiorari.


Was Sherman entrapped, thereby rendering his conviction invalid?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the cause to the district court with instructions to dismiss the indictment. The Court held that entrapment, which occurred when the criminal conduct was "the product of the creative activity" of law enforcement officials, was established in Sherman's case. Sherman had been induced to commit the offense by Kalchinian, a Government informant. The Court averred that although Kalchinian was not being paid, the Government could not disown him or disclaim responsibility for his actions, since he was an active Government informer who was himself awaiting trial on narcotics charges, for which he was later given a suspended sentence. Thus, the Court concluded that Sherman's conviction should have been set aside.

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