Lopez v. United States, 236

Decision Date27 May 1963
Docket NumberNo. 236,236
PartiesGerman S. LOPEZ, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Edward J. Davis, Boston, Mass., for petitioner.

Louis F. Claiborne, New Orleans, La., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, German S. Lopez, was tried in a federal court on a four-count indictment charging him with attempted bribery of an Internal Revenue Agent, Roger S. Davis, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201.1 The questions before us for review are: (1) whether the trial court's treatment of 'entrapment' constituted reversible error; and (2) whether Davis' testimony relating to a conversation with petitioner on October 24, 1961, which formed the basis of the three counts of the indictment on which petitioner was convicted, and a wire recording of that conversation, were properly admitted into evidence.

The evidence at the trial related to three meetings between Lopez and Davis that took place at Clauson's Inn, situated at North Falmouth, Massachusetts, and operated by Lopez under a lease. Davis, who was investigating possible evasion of excise taxes in the area, first visited the Inn on the afternoon of August 31, 1961, when he asked Lopez whether there was any dencing, singing or other entertainment in the evenings and showed him an advertisement for the Inn which stated that there was. Lopez said there was no entertainment and denied responsibility for the advertisement. Davis returned again that evening and saw dancing in the bar and lounge. He described the Inn in a report to his superior the next day as a 'potential delinquent' and said that he would 'follow up.'

Davis next returned to the Inn on October 21, when he again saw dancing in the bar and lounge, and spoke with Lopez. Davis' testimony about this meeting may be summarized as follows: Early in the discussion, Davis told Lopez that he thought the establishment would be liable for a cabaret tax and asked to see the books, but Lopez resisted and suggested that they continue the conversation in his office. Once there, Lopez suggested that he would the to avoid all 'aggravation' and to reach an 'agreement.' After Davis said he could not drop the matter and would return the following week, Lopez said he didn't wish to 'insult' Davis and that he didn't know whether to take him into his 'confidence.' Receiving no reply, Lepez put some money on the desk saying:

'You can drop this case. Here's $200. Buy your wife a present. And I'll have more money for you at Christmas time. This is all I have now.'

Davis balked, and Lopez urged him to take the money and to bring his wife and family for a weekend 'as my guest.' Following some questioning as to the extent of Lopez' business, during the course as which Davis estimated a year's tax as running to $3,000, Lopez added another $220 to the money on the desk, stating that he did not want to be bothered with returns for past years but would file a return for the current quarter. More importunities on Lopez' part followed and Davis finally took the money. Before Davis left, Lopez again said he would file a return for the current quarter and asked Davis to come back on October 24.

Lopez, in his version of the events of October 21, admitted giving the $420 to Davis but said the money was given in an effort to have Davis prepare his returns and get his books in proper order. According to Lopez' testimony, he told Davis that he would file returns from October 17 on, since on that date the Inn had changed its policy to one of entertainment.

After leaving the Inn, Davis reported the meeting to a fellow agent and to his superior and turned over the $420 to a Regional Inspector. On the morning of October 24, he met with four Internal Revenue Inspectors, who instructed him to keep his appointment with Lopez, to 'pretend to play along with the scheme,' and to draw the conversation back to the meeting of October 21. Davis was then equipped with two electronic devices, a pocket battery-operated transmitter (which subsequently failed to work) and a pocket wire recorder, which recorded the conversation between Lopez and Davis at their meeting later in the day.

According to the recording of that conversation, Davis suggested they talk in Lopez' office and, once inside the office, Davis started to explain the excise tax form and to discuss the return. Before any computations were made, Lopez said he had never thought he needed to file a cabaret tax return, and the conversation then continued:

'Lopez: * * * Whatever we decide to do from here on I'd like you to be on my side and visit with me. Deduct anything you think you should and I'll be happy to * * * because you may prevent something coming up in the office. If you think I should be advised about it let me know. Pick up the phone. I can meet you in town or anywhere you want. For your information the other night I have to * * *.

'Davis: Well, you know I've got a job to do.

'Lopez: Yes, and Uncle Sam is bigger than you and I are and we pay a lot of texes, and if we can benefit something by it individually, let's keep it that way and believe me anything that transpires between you and I, not even my wife or my accountant or anybody is aware of it. So I want you to feel that way about it.'2

The two then discussed receipts and the potential tax liability for 19591961, and Lopez protested that Davis' estimates were very high, although he did not deny the fact of liability. After Davis said, 'I don't want to get greedy or anything,' Lopez gave him $200 and later in the conversation told Davis he could bring his family down for a free weekend and should '(c)ome in every so often and I'll give you a couple of hundred dollars every time you come in.' At one point, Lopez said 'Now if you suggest that I should file returns from this point on, I'll do it. If you should suggest that I can get by without doing it, then just drop in every so often and I'll * * *.' Lopez also confirmed that he had given Davis $420 on October 21.

Lopez, in his testimony, did not question the accuracy of the recording and in fact said little more about the meeting of October 24 than that Davis had gone into a lot of figures and that he (Lopez) had become emotionally upset because he felt that Davis 'was not there for the purpose that he came in there for on October 21st.' He did not suggest that Davis had induced him to offer any bribes.

The first of the four counts in the ensuing indictment charged that at the meeting of October 21, Lopez gave Davis the $420 with intent to induce Davis, among other things, 'to refrain from making an examination of the books and records relating to sales and receipts' at the Inn from 19591961.3 The remaining three counts related to the meeting of October 24, and charged three separate acts of attempted bribery, each for the purpose of influencing Davis to aid in concealing sales, receipts, and any cabaret tax due for the years 19591961. The acts were the giving of $200 to Davis (Count 2), the promise of an additional $200 the following month (Count 3), and the promise of a free weekend for Davis and his family (Count 4).

Prior to trial, petitioner filed a motion to suppress as evidence the wire recording of the October 24 conversation between Lopez and Davis. After hearing, this motion was denied. At trial, the motion was renewed and again denied, and the recording was received in evidence. Petitioner did not object to the testimony of Agent Davis relating to the October 24 conversation.

In his charge to the jury, the trial judge emphasized the presumption of innocence and the burden on the Government to establish 'every essential element' of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. He then detailed what these essential elements were and called particular attention to the contrast between the specific intent charged in Count 1—to prevent an examination of books and records—and the more general intent charged in the other three counts—to conceal liability for the tax in question. He strongly suggested that the specific intent alleged in Count 1 had not been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Although defense counsel had briefly adverted to the possibility of 'entrapment' in his summation to the jury, he did not request judgment of acquittal on that ground. Nor did he request any instruction on the point or offer at the trial any evidence particularly aimed at such a defense. Nevertheless, the trial judge did charge on entrapment.4 Petitioner made no objection to this instruction, or to any other aspect of the charge.

The jury acquitted on Count 1 and found petitioner guilty on Counts 2, 3 and 4. A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict 'as a matter of law on the evidence' was denied, and petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for one year.

Following per curiam affirmance of the conviction by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 305 F.2d 825, we granted certiorari, 371 U.S. 859, 83 S.Ct. 116, 9 L.Ed.2d 97, to consider the two questions stated at the outset of this opinion. Supra, pp. 428—429.


The defense of entrapment, its meaning, purpose, and application, are problems that have sharply divided this Court on past occasions. See Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435, 53 S.Ct. 210, 77 L.Ed. 413; Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369, 78 S.Ct. 819, 2 L.Ed.2d 848; Masciale v. United States, 356 U.S. 386, 78 S.Ct. 827, 2 L.Ed.2d 859. Whether in the absence of a conclusive showing the defense is for the court or the jury, and whether the controlling standard looks only to the conduct of the Government, or also takes into account the predisposition of the defendant, are among the issues that have been mooted. We need not, however, concern ourselves with any of these questions here, for under any approach, petitioner's belated claim of entrapment is insubstantial, and the record fails to show any prejudice that would warrant reversal on...

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