Jacobson v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

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.

Facts of the case

Before the Child Protection Act of 1984 rendered it illegal, Keith Jacobson, the petitioner, purchased a magazine including photographs of nude minors. In 1985, government agencies began investigating Jacobson’s interest in child pornography. Over the course of about 2 ½ years, they sent him mailings from 5 fictitious organizations and one non-existent pen pal all promoting sexual liberation and challenging government censorship. After Jacobson was somewhat responsive, a government agency attempted to sting him by selling him child pornography which he purchased, resulting in his arrest and conviction. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.


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.


“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.”

  • Case Brief: 1992
  • Petitioner: Keith Jacobson
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 503 US 540 (1992)
Argued: Nov 6, 1991
Decided: Apr 6, 1992