Sherman v. United States: Summary, Decision, & Significance

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

In the 1958 Supreme Court case 'Sherman v. United States,' a former drug addict working with federal agents pressured a recovering drug addict into selling him drugs. This lesson will discuss this case and the related issue of entrapment.

A Police Ploy

It's Saturday night in New York City, and undercover officer Janey Jones is posing as a prostitute to see if she can arrest some potential solicitors in a seedy section of town. She's wearing a tight mini-dress, very high-heeled shoes, and lots of makeup. She sees a well-dressed man approaching in an expensive looking car. He rolls down his window and drives up to her. Officer Jones is eager to make an arrest tonight.

UNDERCOVER OFFICER JONES: ''Hey, baby, you lookin' for a date?''

WELL-DRESSED MAN: ''Well, sweetheart, that depends. What did you have in mind?''

UNDERCOVER OFFICER JONES: ''Oh, I can give you anything you'd like for the right price.''

WELL-DRESSED MAN: ''And just how much do you cost, anyhow?''

UNDERCOVER OFFICER JONES: ''Get out of the car, turn around, and let me put these handcuffs on you, and we'll talk about it down at the station.''

Officer Jones flashes her badge and takes the very startled, well-dressed man downtown.

If the arrest turns into a conviction, will it stick? Let's take a look at a similar case, called Sherman v. United States, and we'll find out when we talk about entrapment.

Officer Jones makes an arrest

Sherman v. United States

The Supreme Court case Sherman v. United States was tried in 1958. It was an appeal of an original case in which Joseph George Sherman, a reformed drug addict, was convicted of selling narcotics to a government informant, Kalchinian. Kalchinian had been offered a lesser sentence for drug crimes of his own in exchange for his cooperation with the government.

During the late summer of 1951, Kalchinian met with Sherman at a doctor's office where both of them were receiving treatment for drug addiction. They began to have conversations with one another about recovery, and soon Kalchinian told Sherman that he was not responding well to the treatment and was suffering greatly as a result. He asked Sherman where he could get drugs.

Sherman, who did know where drugs could be obtained, at first avoided Kalchinian's question and did not cooperate with his request. This happened repeatedly. Finally, after several attempts on Kalchinian's part, Sherman got drugs and sold some of them to Kalchinian, who then informed the Bureau of Narcotics, for whom he was working, that Sherman was a seller of narcotics.

Supreme Court Decision

In the Sherman v. United States Supreme Court case, the original conviction of Sherman was reversed. In the initial trial, at which Sherman was convicted of selling drugs, the jury had not been properly instructed about the issue of entrapment. The Supreme Court had issued a certiorari, which is a writ that allows it, as the higher court, to review the decision of the lower court in which the original case was tried.

What Is Entrapment?

Entrapment occurs when law enforcement agents induce a person to commit a crime that he would not otherwise have committed. In the introductory example in this lesson, Officer Janey Jones made a conviction that probably won't stick because she's guilty of entrapment. The man she arrested for ''solicitation'' will probably go free.

Why was this scenario entrapment? Because she said, ''Hey, baby, are you lookin' for a date?'' Asking that question was a way of inducing the potential solicitor to commit a crime. Had she simply stood there and allowed the well-dressed man to approach her and offer her money for her services, she could have arrested him and any resulting conviction would have held.

Reasoning Behind Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court determined that Kalchinian was also guilty of entrapment in his dealings with Sherman. Instead of letting it go the first time Sherman indicated that he was not interested in selling Kalchinian any drugs, Kalchinian persisted in his queries until Sherman gave in. Sadly, Sherman also began to use drugs again, jeopardizing his own recovery as a result of Kalchinian's efforts.

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