A Busy Day at the Supreme Court - Justices Tighten Entrapment Rules

Article excerpt

A FRACTURED Supreme Court April 7 said police cannot entice an innocent person to crime and then convict him, strengthening the defense against entrapment in a significant defeat for the government.

By a 5-to-4 margin - with Justice Clarence Thomas making a rare split from his conservative colleagues to cast the deciding vote - the court threw out the 1987 conviction of a Nebraska farmer and Vietnam War veteran for receiving child pornography through the mail.

The court said criminal suspects can successfully claim entrapment whenever police launch an undercover investigation that itself convinces them to break the law.

"In their zeal to enforce the law ... government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person's mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the government may prosecute," Justice Byron White wrote for the majority.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing the dissent, said the court was making it more difficult for police to do their work.

"Today, the court holds that government conduct may be considered to create a predisposition to commit a crime, even before any government action to induce the commission of the crime," wrote Justice O'Connor. "In my view, this holding changes entrapment doctrine." Victory for airlines

The Supreme Court let stand a decision that two of the nation's largest airlines did not violate antitrust laws by making competitors pay to be listed in computerized reservation systems now used by most travel agents.

The court, without comment, declined to disturb a ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that United Air Lines and American Airlines are permitted to charge listing fees without violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Appeal decision stands

The Supreme Court also let stand a decision that the government forfeits its right to appeal a sentence when it enters a plea agreement specifically barring the suspect from appealing.

The court, without comment, declined to review a ruling of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals prohibiting the government from appealing the sentence given to a woman with whom it had reached a plea bargain.

The government believed the district court imposed too light a sentence and appealed to have the sentence increased.

Under the precise arrangements of the plea bargain, the woman was precluded from appealing if the sentence had been longer than she expected, but there was no mention of such a restriction on the government. …

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