A Victory for Property Rights
(Note: "Just like any other law enforcement agency, the PGC must have probable cause or obtain a warrant to enter private property. The ramifications of this ruling are monumental." This issue is reminiscent of the "Open Fields Doctrine" of South Dakota, but is thankfully being handled quite differently.)
July 18, 2005 / Month 77
By Jim Slinsky
Sportsman's Connection Outdoor Talk Network
11 Dogwood Drive
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania 18229
Property rights have taken a beating over the last decade. Some of you will disagree and say it has been far longer. Obviously, we must be ever diligent and protect and preserve the three pillars of our freedoms: The First Amendment, the Second Amendment and the right to own property.
may have heard by now that the judge dismissed the request for a
trial by jury in the Bob Floyd case. I have seen PGC press releases in
various newspapers proclaiming vindication of the Agency against the
allegations of Bob Floyd, Adam Waltz, Art Gavlock and Jim Pletcher.
The PGC actually appears to be quite proud they won this one (for the
moment). Needless to say, Bob Floyd's attorney, Mr. Don Bailey, was
extremely disappointed by the dismissal. Within days he appealed the
decision to a higher federal court. Stay tuned. This one is not over
until it is over.
While all of this was playing out, another major private property rights case was unfolding in again, Clinton County. This time it involved a dentist, Dr. William Edwards.
Apparently, Dr. Edwards was suspected of poaching turkeys -- on his private, posted property.
One night, in the complete darkness, a PGC WCO (Wildlife Conservation Officer) crawled on his belly some ridiculous distance to get into position -- and started making sounds like a turkey.
Edwards came out of his house with a shotgun and was arrested.
At the magistrate level, Dr. Edwards was found guilty. He appealed that decision to the county court and it was reversed.
Dr. Edwards was declared not guilty because his private property rights were violated.
Judge Michael Williamson ruled that private, posted property is exactly that: posted and private.
Judge Williamson ruled that the PGC must have probable cause and/or a warrant to enter private property.
cause means a verifiable source willing to testify to the wrongdoing.
(I do not believe anonymous tips quality as "probable
course, this ruling challenged the very way the PGC has done business
for decades. I believe there is a stipulation in Title 34 that says
the PGC can enter private property in the execution of their duties
except for standing buildings. A short time after Judge Williamson's
ruling the PGC quietly announced they were taking this one to the PA
Supreme Court. Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Lori
Rothrock presented the appeal to the high court.
the PGC got their ruling about one month ago. I have yet to see a
single newspaper reporter or outdoor columnist report on this critical
issue. The PA Supreme Court decided in favor of Dr. Edwards and agreed
with the decision of Judge Michael Williamson. Just like any other law
enforcement agency, the PGC must have probable cause or obtain a
warrant to enter private property. The ramifications of this ruling
always amazed me that local and state law enforcement agencies handled
the rights of known criminals with extreme care. Whether it is drug
dealers, armed robbers or pedophiles, law enforcement is aware that
civil rights violations could easily result in the dismissal of all
charges. However, the PGC appeared to be exempt from civil rights
considerations. For decades people would comment the PGC was the most
powerful law enforcement agency in the state. I can only speculate
that the rigorous law enforcement in the early part of this century
established their perceived authority.
was just a matter of time before the limitations of the PGC's
authority would be established legally. In our litigious society it
was inevitable that the method of arrest or circumstances surrounding
a summons would be challenged all the way to the PA Supreme Court.
one in their right mind condones the illegal killing of a turkey,
deer, squirrel or any other wild animal. PA has a long history of
enthusiastic law enforcement to protect our natural resources. The
PGC's job of protecting those natural resources has just become a bit
some may say this ruling is a setback in the fight to protect our game
and non-game animals, wiser thinking should prevail. Law enforcement
has a difficult job in the fields and in our cities and streets. Never
should we disregard the civil rights or property rights of our
citizens to facilitate the efforts of law enforcement.
No matter how noble the cause, the rights of the people are above the law.
Jim Slinsky is the host and producer of the "Sportsman's Connection", a nationally syndicated, outdoor-talk radio program. For a station near you or to contact Jim, visit his website at http://www.outdoortalknetwork.com
Additional researched, recommended information:
Dr. Edwards' attorney:
Stuart L. Hall
333 N Vesper Street
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania 17745
Title 34 [the Game Code]