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State attorney general says DFW wardens can violate 4th Amendment


In startling testimony before the Fish and Game Commission recently, the Attorney General’s office testified that Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens can make warrantless searches of the residence of ANYONE who has purchased a hunting or fishing license.

No probable cause.

No requests for entry.

Just bang down the door and search your home.

While this would clearly be a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, this nonsensical rabbit was pulled from the hat by our attorney general’s office.

It grossly expands the state Supreme Court’s ruling that wardens can search vehicles of fishermen coming from a “fishing area” without a search warrant. Since this ruling, wardens have routinely searched both hunter’s and fisherman’s vehicles without probable cause other than the sportsmen were in the act or had recently been hunting and fishing.

It should be noted that two lower courts ruled against the wardens in this case (where a search of a vehicle without the owner’s permission turned up an illegal lobster), citing a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. But the liberal state supreme court ruled that “conservation” overruled individual rights.

At the Commission meeting Ann Malcolm, from the Attorney General’s office who represents the DFW, cited no case law in her testimony, but said that hunting and fishing are among “highly regulated industries” like nursing homes or day-care centers that allow for searches at any time, even when the residents/staff/owners are not present.

This has never been established in existing case law. To suggest that hunting and fishing are a “highly regulated” industry similar to nursing homes is ludicrous. This would represent a gross expansion of the definition of the category, and it would mean that over a million residents of this state could have their homes searched at any time, without any probable cause, simply because the fish or hunt.

If this stands as the new standard, imagine how invasive it could become for all citizens -- not just hunters and fishermen. If this is upheld in the courts in the coming years, it would embolden the state to infringe on everyone’s rights based on this new definition of “highly regulated” industries.

Some examples: The state could decide that law enforcement would be able to conduct warrantless searches of your homes if you have a driver’s license, one of the most “highly regulated industries” in our state by this new standard. You would have no expectation of Fourth Amendment protection because you have chosen to participate in driving on public roads. It could even be taken to the extreme for all fees and permits we all buy. If you buy an entrance pass to a state park, state park rangers would be able to search your home (ostensibly to make sure you haven’t collected some endangered flowers or to match your DNA to trash left at the park). And it would all be for some, overriding greater good, like “conservation.”

The “vehicle” search rule is onerous enough (and fortunately tread on lightly by DFW wardens, most who ask for permission to look in ice chests or trucks), but this statement by the attorney general’s office is beyond the pall.

It is just another step in the organized discrimination against hunters (despicable gun owners) and now fishermen (practicing an arcane sport most enlightened politicians believe should be banned, too). They see us as some sort of lesser citizens. They believe the Bill of Rights has a lot of exemptions, based on what they find palatable.

Gun ownership isn’t palatable.

Sportfishing is barbaric.

Hunting is the anthesis of their new environmentalism.

That is what Ann Malcolm was saying at the Commission meeting. It was putting us all on notice that the state was going to continue to come after those of us who still hunt and fish -- and everyone else in the future. Most people who don’t hunt and fish don’t care because “their” rights haven’t been violated yet.

But how long will it be before the enlightened ones decide that something dear to your heart should be banned, highly taxed, or regulated to the point you forfeit your civil rights to participate.

Today, it’s just another step in the eventual ban on hunting and fishing (and gun ownership) in this state. But you are naïve if you believe you are safe.

The day will come in California that all pet ownership will be banned. It will happen in this sequence. First, you will be forced to license all your pets, and you will be charged a higher fee for non-neutered pets. (Oh, wait, that’s how it is now most places in the state.) Then owners of non-neutered animals will soon be “licensed” and heavily taxed so the state can come into your homes -- without a warrant -- to make sure you aren’t running an illegal breeding operation. Eventually, all pet owners will be licensed and taxed so animal control officers can conduct warrantless searches of our homes, under the guise of assuring our pets are being cared for adequately. Eventually, the state will just ban the activity because its inhumane to breed and keep pets.

Imagine how things will change for people who brew their own beer (not paying taxes on that “commercial” product), people who drive those dangerous motorcycles, people who own pressure cookers (we don’t know you’re not making a bomb), or people who watch Fox News.

I’m way off base, of course. These are just the rantings of a grumpy old man. None of those things will ever happen in our society. We just need to ban guns and get rid of hunting and fishing and our world a perfect place.


[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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