Supreme Court’s lottery ruling a lesson for Iowa law enforcement

by Rox Laird | June 23, 2017

Law enforcement authorities who dilly-dally in investigating crimes face the prospect of losing at trial because the statute of limitations clock has run out, the Iowa Supreme ruled Friday.

The Court threw out the 2015 conviction of Eddie Tipton, a former Multistate Lottery Association security expert who used his knowledge of random-selection computer coding to rig a drawing and then tried to collect a $16.5 million winning Hot Lotto jackpot.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Brent Appel joined by all justices except Edward Mansfield, who disagreed with one part of the 70-page decision while concurring with the rest.

Friday’s decision comes too late for Tipton, who is scheduled to plead guilty to a similar lottery-rigging charge on June 29. But it is a cautionary tale for law-enforcement officials, prosecutors and trial judges to consider in future cases.

A Polk County jury convicted Tipton of two felonies: fraudulently tampering with lottery equipment and fraudulently attempting to redeem a lottery ticket.

Tipton challenged his conviction on a number of grounds, all of which were rejected by the Supreme Court. But Friday’s decision focused most extensively on the issue of the statute of limitations, which gives the government a deadline by which criminal prosecutions must begin.

Quoting earlier court decisions, Appel said these statutory deadlines are “designed to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time.” Yet they also “have the salutary effect of encouraging law enforcement officials promptly to investigate suspected criminal activity.”

The trial judge dismissed Tipton’s contention that the state missed the three-year statute of limitations in his case, citing exceptions in the state criminal code for crimes that amount to “continuing offenses,” and a specific exemption for fraud.

The Supreme Court disagreed, however.

Relying on earlier Iowa decisions, the Court said there is nothing explicit in state law that says fraudulent “uttering, passing and redeeming, and tampering with intent to influence” are continuing offenses. “Unlike classic continuing offenses such as kidnapping, bigamy, or possession,” Appel wrote, “the evil sought to be prohibited does not inherently continue on a daily basis” with those crimes.

One key question for setting the statute-of-limitations clock: At what point did the state discover, or should it have discovered, that Tipton tampering with a lottery computers to rig the drawing? The answer is whether the state exercised due diligence in its investigation. If the answer is yes, the state would have been entitled to a one-year extension of the statute of limitations.

The Court, however, said the state failed to show that it showed the necessary due diligence in the Tipton investigation, taking more than three years pursuing leads that could easily have been achieved earlier.

“An effort to unlawfully obtain millions of dollars in lottery winnings is a serious crime,” Appel wrote. “Multistate lottery funds provide a significant source of revenue for the participating states. Such revenues are dependent upon the integrity of the lottery program.” And the Legislature has emphasized the need for the lottery to operate with integrity.

“Finally,” he wrote, “there can be no question of the moral culpability of an offender attempting to swindle the lottery. In its investigation, the State must act with due diligence in light of the seriousness of the crime in order to avail itself of the one-year extension of the statute of limitations.”


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