Can Wyoming Game & Fish Charge Crimes? Casper Attorney Says ‘No’
A minor alleged hunting violation last fall may have set the stage for a legal battle with major ramifications on how Wyoming's hunting laws are enforced.
Anita Kleiner is charged with taking the wrong sex of a big game animal, a misdemeanor. She's facing a $250 fine if convicted.
But her attorney, Tom Green, has argued it's against the Wyoming constitution for Game and Fish to cite crimes.
In a motion to dismiss the charges, Green cited two cases in which the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that state agencies can't set laws. Only lawmaking bodies can do that.
Wyoming's game wardens are unique compared to other law enforcement officers statewide as game wardens enforce rules and regulations established by a commission. Other agencies such as sheriff's deputies and police officers enforce laws created by elected bodies such as the state legislature and local ordinances passed by city councils and county commissions.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is not elected but instead appointed by the governor.
"The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission may not define a standard of conduct pursuant to which an individual might be adjudicated a criminal," Green writes in his motion.
Wyoming law gives game and fish the authority to set hunting regulations such as seasons, bag limits and how many tags are allotted in a particular season. Violations of Wyoming's hunting regulations are typically treated as misdemeanors, as in Kleiner's case.
Assistant Natrona County District Attorney Mackenzie Morrison in a motion argued that Wyoming law is clear and it would make "no sense" to have the law giving game and fish authority to set hunting regulations.
":[L]ooking at the plain and ordinary meaning of the statute and regulation, it is unambiguous," Morrison wrote.
Because Green's motion deals with a constitutionality issue, the Wyoming Attorney General's Office must be served notice. That could set the stage for a battle in the state's high court.
"It may be worth taking all the way to the supreme court," Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Michael Patchen said during a hearing Friday. "We see it in federal government how agencies exceed their power."