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Jacobson v. United States

Citation. Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 112 S. Ct. 1535, 118 L. Ed. 2d 174, 60 U.S.L.W. 4307, 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 2901, 92 Daily Journal DAR 4584, 6 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 166 (U.S. Apr. 6, 1992)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The defendant, Keith Jacobson (the “defendant”), ordered child pornography through a government sting operation. The defendant argued the defense of entrapment, claiming his order came only after twenty six months of mailings from the government.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The burden of proof is on the state to prove that a defendant is predisposed to violate the law before the government intervenes.


The defendant ordered child pornography in February of 1984. At the time of the order, the transaction was legal and the defendant claims he was unaware that the material depicted minors. Government agents received the defendant’s name as a potential target for mailings that would eventually lead to the defendant’s purchase of additional child pornography. The mailings came over a period of at least twenty six months, and they included questionnaires and literature advocating the legalization of the child pornography. Eventually, the defendant purchased material because, he argue, they piqued his interest over time.


Whether the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was predisposed to the crime before they solicited him with the mailings?


The government did not meet their burden because there was no proof, other than the then legal purchase of pornographic materials by the defendant that would indicate a predisposition to commit a crime. The Supreme Court of the United States (“Supreme Court”) reasoned that conduct that was legal at the time could not be used to prove the predisposition. Further, the time it took the government (twenty six months) to get a purchase from the defendant demonstrated that, but for the constant mailings from the government, the defendant would not have made the illegal purchases. The defendant was not found with any other illegal materials.


The dissent argued that there was evidence that could (and did) convince a jury that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime at issue. The dissent expressed concern that the majority’s opinion would now require the state to prove that a defendant was predisposed to knowingly break the law. The dissent also noted that the time frame for determining a defendant’s predisposition changed from when the government offered the defendant an opportunity to commit a crime to the time when the government first intervened with the defendant.


The cases that have put forth tests for determining entrapment have ranged widely from case to case. In this case, the focus is on the mind of the defendant rather than any reasonableness standard for the government’s cond.

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