France v. United States, 164 U.S. 676 (1897)

2012-06-25 14:26:24

This case involved a charge of conspiracy for violating an act of Congress intended to suppress interstate lottery traffic. A lottery drawing of three random numbers was held in the city of Covington, Kentucky, located immediately across the Ohio River from Cincinnati,Ohio. Lottery agents inCincinnati recorded the numbers chosen by players. At a certain time before the lottery was to be drawn in Covington, the agents in Cincinnati sent messengers with a paper showing the various numbers chosen, the amounts of the bets, and the money to the office in Covington. The messengers would return with ‘‘hit slips,’’ which were slips of paper with the winning numbers and the amounts payable to those who won in the last drawing. On their return to Cincinnati, some of the messengers were arrested and charged with conspiracy for carrying these hit slips. This was a violation of the statute prohibiting papers or instruments relating to lotteries across state lines.

Justice Peckham delivered the opinion of the Court and ruled that the words ‘‘concerning any lottery’’ must be strictly construed to mean a current or future lottery. Because the lottery had already been drawn, the hit slips carried by the messengers were not dependent on a current lottery and, therefore, did not violate the law. Furthermore, because the hit slips did not contain any particular person’s name, did not have signatures, and were not addressed to any person, they did not represent a ticket, share, or interest in the event of any lottery. Thus, a strict interpretation of the language of the statute required that the judgment against the messengers be reversed.


References and Further Reading

  • Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416 (1996): a case involving the power of an appellate court to reverse a district court’s denial of a motion for a directed verdict.
  • Millan Couvertier v. Gil Bonar, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, No. 98-1997 (1999): a case involving lotteries in Puerto Rico.
  • United States v. Halseth, 342 U.S. 277 (1952): case that affirms strictly construing the meaning of ‘‘concerning any lottery’’ when information concerning lotteries is sent through the mail.