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
Fax: 570-325-5537

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.

You 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.


Dr. 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.


Probable cause means a verifiable source willing to testify to the wrongdoing. (I do not believe anonymous tips quality as "probable cause")


Of 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.


Interestingly, 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 are monumental.  


It 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.


It 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.  


No 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 harder.


While 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]

Search   Pennsylvania Game Commission - State Wildlife Management Agency Home   Printable Version   eMail  

Chapter 1. Preliminary Provisions
  Preliminary Provisions

Chapter 3. Pennsylvania Game Commission
  Subchapter A. Organization, Officers and Employees
  Subchapter B. Powers and Duties in General

Chapter 5. Fiscal Affairs
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Game Fund
  Subchapter C. Erection of Deterrent Fences
  Subchapter D. Payment of Bear Damage Claims
  Subchapter E. Review Procedures

Chapter 7. Property and Buildings
  Subchapter A. Acquisition and Improvements
  Subchapter B. Control, Management and Disposition
  Subchapter C. Protection of Commission Property

Chapter 9. Enforcement
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Prosecution and Penalties

Chapter 21. Game or Wildlife Protection
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Destruction for Agricultural Protection
  Subchapter C. Destruction of Game or Wildlife in Self-Defense
  Subchapter D. Protection of Game or Wildlife

Chapter 23. Hunting and Furtaking
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Hunting Big Game
  Subchapter C. Hunting Small Game
  Subchapter D. Furtaking Regulations
  Subchapter E. Dogs Pursuing Game or Wildlife

Chapter 25. Protection of Property and Persons
  Subchapter A. Protection of Property
  Subchapter B. Protection of Persons

Chapter 27. Hunting and Furtaking Licenses
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Agents
  Subchapter C. License Denials or Revocations

Chapter 29. Special Licenses and Permits
  Subchapter A. General Provisions
  Subchapter B. Specific Classes of Permits
  Subchapter C. Permits Relating to Hunting Dogs
  Subchapter D. Permits Relating to Wildlife