Jacobson v. United States

503 U.S. 540



In order to convict an individual of a crime after the government intervenes, the government bears the burden of proof to prove that a defendant is predisposed to violate the law before the government intervened.


In 1984, the defendant ordered child pornography, which was a legal transaction at the time. At the time of the order, defendant claims that he did not know that the material depicted minors. The government received defendant's name as a potential target for future pornography-encouraging mailings. The government continued to send the defendant mailings, and the defendant eventually purchased the material. Defendant was convicted of violating the Child Protection Act of 1984, which criminalized the knowing receipt through the mails of a visual depiction that involved the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Defendant's entrapment defense failed. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed. Defendant challenged the affirmance.


Did the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was predisposed to the crime before the government t solicited him with the mailings?




In reversing the lower courts' rulings, the Supreme Court held that the government overstepped the line between setting a trap for the "unwary innocent" and the "unwary criminal." The Court also held that, as a matter of law, the government failed to establish that defendant was independently predisposed to commit the crime for which he was arrested. The Court determined that although defendant was predisposed to break the law, the government did not prove that this predisposition was independent and not the product of the attention that the government had directed towards defendant. The Court noted that by making available illegal sexually explicit materials, the government not only excited defendant's interest in materials banned by law, but also exerted substantial pressure on defendant to obtain such materials.

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