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Minnesota Poaching Case Dismissed, Judge Says Constitutional Rights Violated

Judge dismisses a case following a five-year investigation into the poaching of dozens of animals.

A district Judge in Minnesota has dismissed the 13 poaching charges levied against Joshua Liebl following an arrest made in early 2015.  The investigation resulted in the seizure of 28 sets of deer antlers, four sets of elk antlers, a set of mule deer antlers, 37 guns and a fully intact piebald deer fawn that had been kept in the mans freezer.

When Wide Open Spaces reported on this story last year, Liebl faced multiple charges of illegal transport of wild game, hunting out of season, using artificial lights, hunting with a suspended license, failure to tag and register big game and taking big game in a closed season. Liebl’s laundry list of illegal hunting activity although shocking, wasn’t exactly a surprise to the local community, as the man had long been rumored a poacher.

District Judge Thomas Van Hon dismissed the case after he ruled that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had violated Liebl’s Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizer after the DNR had placed a GPS tracking device on the Liebl’s truck without first obtaining a search warrant.

The tracking device, placed in late September of 2014, led officers to arrest Liebl in October of 2014 while was transporting a 8-point buck, killed out of season with a firearm. It was at Liebl’s home that the rest of the trophys were located and seized.

In his ruling, Judge Van Hon agreed with the defense attorney that a Supreme Court decision in a 2012 case made it clear that Minnesota had failed to obtain the proper warrant to place the GPS tracker on the truck.

This is where it gets a bit confusing and shows why defense attorneys earn such big money finding ways to circumvent law enforcement. While the DNR had obtained a “tracking warrant,” which is used to gain information in ongoing cases, it doesn’t qualify as a search warrant. While the tracking order resulted in the information needed to obtain a search warrant, because the warrant was never issued, all the evidence seized in the case could not be used in the court hearing.

In a news release, defense attorney William Peterson called the ruling an “important victory of the rule of law and for the privacy of sportsmen in Minnesota.”

The case was one of a few in Minnesota that made national news and has convinced lawmakers in the state to push for higher penalties in poaching, including felony convictions in certain situations.

Recently Governor Mark Dayton, in an interview stated “The recently reported instances of wanton and wasteful poaching in Minnesota should offend the sensibilities of all ethical and law-abiding hunters and anglers. They are shameful criminal acts, and they should be treated as serious offenses by Minnesota laws.”

The county attorney said that a motion to appeal had not yet been made, but that the decision to do so would be made within a few weeks.

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Minnesota Poaching Case Dismissed, Judge Says Constitutional Rights Violated