United States v. Russell Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Respondent, Richard Russell (the “Respondent”), manufactured methamphetamine using an essential chemical provided by an undercover federal agent. The chemical is difficult to acquire, and without the chemical it is impossible to manufacture the drug.

Facts of the case

At the conclusion of an undercover drug investigation, Richard Russell was arrested by Washington police and eventually convicted in a district court for drug manufacturing crimes. Russell challenged his conviction as the result of unconstitutional entrapment practices, since an undercover agent supplied him with an essential ingredient of his drug manufacturing operation. On appeal from an adverse Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court granted the government certiorari.

Question

Whether the government authorities’ conduct should be the determining factor, as opposed to the conduct of the defendants, when deciding the merits of an entrapment defense?

Answer

The conduct of the defendants, rather than the conduct of any government agents, is the test to determine whether there is a defense of entrapment. The court affirmed prior holdings in Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435 (1932) and Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369 (1958) and declined to accept the concurring reasoning in both cases.

Conclusion

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.

  • Case Brief: 1973
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Russell
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 411 US 423 (1973)
Argued: Feb 27, 1973
Decided: Apr 24, 1973