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State v. Tippett

3-21-2001 Iowa:

State v. Tippett

Defendant, James Clay Tippett, who was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender in violation of Iowa Code section 692A.7(1) (1997), challenges his conviction on the basis that it was not supported by substantial evidence when the record is considered as a whole.1 After reviewing the record and considering the arguments presented, we agree with defendant's contention and reverse the judgment of the district court.

In 1991 defendant was convicted in Illinois of aggravated sexual abuse involving a minor and sentenced to prison. He was released in 1993. In 1997, while still under parole supervision by Illinois authorities, he attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Sometime in 1998 he was brought to the attention of Iowa authorities when a mother complained that defendant was frequenting an area near her home where her young son played and was interacting with her son and other neighborhood children.

After local police asked defendant for identification, a criminal history check revealed his Illinois conviction. The State contends that, as a result of defendant's moving from Illinois to Iowa, he was required to register as a sex offender in Johnson County no later than September 4, 1997.

There are two issues for our decision as a result of the argument defendant presents. These are: (1) must a defendant know of the duty to register as a sex offender in order to be convicted of failure to register; and (2) if the first inquiry is answered in the affirmative, was there sufficient evidence presented at defendant's trial to show that he was aware of a duty to register.

... ... ...

Ill. Pub. Act 89-8 art. 20, § 20-20 (effective January 1, 1996). It appears that, at the time defendant was released from prison in 1993, Illinois correctional officials were not expressly tasked to advise him concerning the duty to register in another state to which he might move.

Irrespective of the requirements of Illinois law, the State's argument based on the probability that defendant would have been advised by Illinois correction authorities of a duty to register in a new state of residence is based on an unsupported presumption. If such advice had been given to defendant, there should have been a source of evidence for the State to produce at trial. The failure to produce such evidence does as much or more to suggest that defendant was not advised of a duty to register in another state than any presumption the State might rely upon does to suggest that he was so advised.

The State's only other contention concerning defendant's awareness of a legal duty to register is a reliance on the fact that he has moved from place to place since his discharge from prison. The State suggests that this was an effort to avoid registration. The State cannot circumstantially prove the existence of a fact by relying on a circumstance that is itself dependent upon the fact's existence. In order to tie defendant's nomadic tendencies to an attempt to avoid registration, the State would have to independently establish that he knew of the registration requirement. Standing alone, defendant's frequent moves from place to place are not indicative of that knowledge. When the record is viewed as a whole, the State's evidence is insufficient to establish that defendant was aware of a duty to register. The verdict should have been directed in his favor.

We have considered all issues presented and conclude that the judgment of the district court must be reversed. The case is returned to that court for entry of judgment of acquittal.


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