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What Are Your Rights When a Game Warden Asks You Questions?

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Here’s an example of how a Pennsylvania man withheld his rights when a game warden asked him questions.

The following post was contributed by Tom Beveridge, and originally appeared on the Prince Law Office’s blog.

Jack Coble of Perry County believes in his constitutional rights. In fact, he spent thousands of dollars to fight a citation he received from a Pennsylvania Game Commission officer – and he won!

On November 7, 2012, a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Steven Shaffer entered Mr. Coble’s farm to investigate a tip about “jacklighting” deer on his property. Jacklighting is an illegal method of spotlighting and shooting deer at night.

Mr. Coble was home recuperating from serious hand injury when he was questioned by the deputy. He denied any knowledge of such activities, but left his home to drive around his 120 acre farm followed by the deputy.

When they arrived at the barn, the deputy and Mr. Coble came upon his daughter and another man with the carcass of a deer.

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As reported by the Associated Press, Deputy Shaffer testified that Mr. Coble became “irate” at this point and ordered him off of his land.

Apparently, the deputy did not leave as requested, but testified that, when things “calmed down, he [Mr. Coble] admitted to being present when the deer was shot.”

Thereafter, Deputy Shaffer apparently cited Mr. Coble with a summary charge of the fourth degree (the fine totaling $150) under section 2126(a)(6) of Title 34 of the Game and Wildlife Code.

This section states that it is unlawful for any person acting under the provisions for “destruction for agricultural protection” – an assumption apparently made by the deputy – to “refuse to answer, without evasion, upon request of any representative of the [PA Game] commission, any pertinent question pertaining to the killing or wounding of any game or wildlife killed or wounded, or the disposition of the entire carcass or any part thereof.”

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Deputy Shaffer believed Mr. Coble was “being evasive” and, therefore, cited him under this section.

Mr. Coble hired Donald Zagurskie, Esquire, to defend him against this charge. Attorney Zagurskie successfully argued that it is a violation of Mr. Coble’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination to cite him for not answering or evasively answering questions of the deputy.

In fact, this section of the Game Code effectively forced Mr. Coble to answer the deputy’s questions or be punished at the discretion of the officer.

In what this attorney calls a very commendable act, the Perry County Prosecutor handling the matter agreed with Attorney Zagurskie’s argument stating that it certainly had merit and did not contest Mr. Coble’s appeal.

Although the Prosecutor, believed to be Daniel Stern, Esquire, notified the Game Commission and Attorney General’s office of his decision not to contest the appeal, neither office initiated any actions to intervene in the matter or pursue the matter further.

So, what does this mean for Pennsylvania sportsmen?

While this section of the Game Code is very narrowly applied, it means that you should not be intimidated by Fish or Game Wardens who tell you that you must answer their questions or face a penalty. It means that you have a Constitutional right against self incrimination and a right to consult an attorney.

I strongly suggest that anyone who is questioned by any such officers be very respectful to their authority, but never be intimidated or forced to answer questions.

Simply advise the officer that you wish to consult with your attorney before answering any further questions – regardless of the circumstances!

You should feel free to contact our office at any time – day or night – and use our emergency number to obtain legal advice, and, if necessary, legal representation to protect your rights.

Call us anytime, toll free, at 888-313-0416.

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What Are Your Rights When a Game Warden Asks You Questions?