Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Game Warden Files--Using Other Laws

As an Environmental Conservation Officer my desire was to make arrests based upon the Environmental Conservation Law.  Sometimes, however, you can't get what you want so you take what you can get.

One of the big problems in rural areas is road hunting. One of the tools we use is the law which prohibits having a loaded rifle or shotgun in a motor vehicle. That's a tough one to catch, and the decoy has helped that a lot, but we often have made stops when you KNOW that you've been beaten on the loaded gun, but they leave you some other options.

One young fellow was driving slowly down a back road, came around a corner and found me checking a couple others hunters who had just come out of the woods.  I stopped him, but not before he dropped the magazine and ejected the round from the chamber of his rifle. He beat me fair and square on that one; but had three kids in the back seat, all without proper seat belts on. One ticket for three counts of no seat belts...that was expensive.

One fall afternoon I was talking with neighboring officer Jim Harnish who was enjoying a few days off and putting out a few mink traps along a stream on a back road.  My car was partially hidden behind his pickup so we had a good spot for watching a car come very slowly down a hill, its three occupants peering intently into the woods on either side of the road. We stepped out in front of them and, like the guy in the story above, they beat me fair and square. The guns were unloaded with loose rounds rolling around on the floor of the car. However, they each had an open can of beer. Because of some extenuating circumstances, I took them right to the judge who lived only a short distance away.

This judge was a delightful, grandmotherly-looking lady with a disarming demeanor.  These three young men all thought they had it made with her and after being duly advised of all their rights eagerly pleaded guilty to their charges.  When the good judge pronounced sentence of a stiff fine, plus fees totaling about a hundred and sixty dollars each, their attitudes changed drastically.  The judge calmly asked if they had the money with them or "Shall I have this officer transport you to the Hamilton County Jail."  They were able to come up with the money.  Funny, but that magic word jail often has the effect of producing cash.

Early--like 2 AM--one Thanksgiving morning I was on the east side of the Sacandaga River and saw a car going slowly up the road on the west side, with someone in the car playing a light in an area heavily run by deer.  Since the car was headed for a dead end, I figured it would be easy enough to catch them and made the trip to cross the river and head up the other side. I caught the car in the same generally area, but didn't find them in any actual game violation as I could not positively identify it as the same car, much less identify the occupant who had been working the light. Of course they denied that they were doing anything wrong, and of course they hadn't been shining the light looking for deer and that rifle had never been loaded....yeah, sure.

Since two of the occupants were not only drinking in the vehicle, but also underage and the third one was of age and had given them the beer, they were all charged.  Yeah, they beat me on the night hunting; but it was an expensive night for them anyway.

In all of those cases, and many more like them, I'd have rather written tickets for a game law violation, but my observations wouldn't support the charge.  I took what I could get and got the desired results.  It's just what you have to do sometimes.

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