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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Russell - 411 U.S. 423 (1973)


The entrapment defense prohibits law enforcement officers from instigating a criminal act by persons otherwise innocent in order to lure them to its commission and to punish them. Thus, the thrust of the entrapment defense is to focus on the intent or predisposition of a defendant to commit the crime.


Defendant Richard Russell was convicted for unlawfully manufacturing and processing methamphetamine and for unlawfully selling and delivering the drug. At trial in federal districts court, the evidence showed that undercover federal agent supplied Russell with an essential ingredient for the manufacture of methamphetamine in return for one-half of the drug produced.  On Russell's appeal, the court of appeals reversed the district's court's judgment. The appellate court found that, even though Russell conceded that he may have harbored a predisposition to commit the charged offenses, Russell was entrapped because the agent's conduct created an intolerable degree of governmental participation in the criminal enterprise. On appeal, the judgment was reversed. The Government was granted a writ of certiorari.


Could Russell assert the defense of entrapment despite conceding that he may have been predisposed to commit the charged offenses?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court's judgment. The Court held that Russell's concession that there was evidence to support the jury's finding that he was predisposed to commit the crime was fatal to his claim of entrapment. The Court observed that its prior precedents established that the principal element in the defense of entrapment was a defendant's predisposition to commit the crime. The Court found that the court of appeals was wrong to broaden the principles laid down in those decisions by introducing an unmanageably subjective standard based upon the conduct of the police that was contrary to the holdings of applicable case law.

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