Avoiding Prosecution for DNR Hunting and Fishing Violations

Violations of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Hunting and Fishing regulations in Michigan can result in many costly penalties:

  1. Most of these offenses are misdemeanors (low level crimes) that carry the potential for a jail sentence.  Some DNR offenses actually result in a mandatory period of incarceration – even for a first time offender.   Upon conviction a Judge can impose a period of probation, with conditions that may impact your ability to live your life in the manner you want.  The Judge has wide discretion to consider probationary conditions, such as community service, drug/alcohol testing, educational classes, inability to travel outside the State of Michigan, etc.
  2. For professions that require professional licensure or a security clearance, the ramifications of a conviction are very serious.   Some professional licensing boards require the disclosure of any criminal conviction, which can lead to discipline.  Many federal jobs, especially jobs requiring a security clearance, require a clean criminal history.  Most DNR violations are misdemeanor criminal offenses.  In our data driven society you should assume that a background search will likely reveal an arrest and conviction history.
  3. DNR convictions in Michigan often lead to a loss of your ability to legally hunt or fish, and in some instances the loss in privileges lasts for several years.  For many who love the outdoors, this is the worst of all of the penalties.
  4. These types of convictions are often expensive.  The possible financial penalties for many DNR offenses include fines, costs, crime victims rights fees, probationary fees, and restitution.  The restitution for illegally taking a deer, elk, bear, turkey, fish, or other animal is set high to deter poaching.  For trophy animals the penalties sometimes are thousands upon thousands of dollars.  A penalty that sometimes is sought is the forfeiture of hunting gear, which for many hunters is a hardship and sometimes even a sentimental loss.

What can be done to prevent the DNR from pursuing a hunting or fishing violations against you?

Education.  Unfortunately, there always are a few changes to the law from season to season, and ignorance of the law is not an excuse.  This is the reason why every year when you obtain a fishing or hunting license there are hunting digests or fishing guides provided to give notice of what the law currently requires in a condensed form.  A fuller description of what Michigan law entails is also available to read online.  It is a great idea to read this information at the beginning of every season to become aware of any changes in the law, and to refresh your memory as to hunting or fishing limitations.  There are even classes offered, if you want to take the time to watch the same, that teach the proper way to hunt and fish.  Knowing the law will help prevent you from breaking the law.

Make Sure You Are Properly Licensed.  The excuse that “I usually purchase a license but forgot”, or that “I believed my spouse purchased my license and was wrong”, are always viewed with heavy skepticism by DNR.  Another excuse that is frequently given is that “I thought that I had one type of license, but actually had another type of license”.   They are unlikely to cut you a break that does not involve a ticket if you are not properly licensed.

Avoid Social Media and Other Forms of Bragging.  There are countless hunting and fishing violation investigations that are pursued as a result of social media.  Many hunters like to brag about the deer that they kill, especially trophy deer.  Michigan DNR is known to look at social media regarding to boasts made, and to see if the individual is licensed, or to see whether or not the individual purchased a hunting or fishing license near the time that they claim success in hunting or fishing.  DNR officers are likely to doubt an assertion that you got lucky and bagged a trophy buck within hours of purchasing a license.  Persons who brag through social media or otherwise sometimes get reported to DNR by someone in a prior dating relationship, an ex spouse, an enemy, or a nosy neighbor.  In many DNR cases I handle, the strongest evidence of the prosecution is contained in social media and text messaging.  Many people like to tell on themselves when they do something wrong.  Many people like to tell on other people when they do something wrong.  Social media will make your life more complicated, and maybe in not a good way.

Do Not Otherwise Bring Attention To Yourself.  Driving infractions (broken tail light, speeding, etc), driving offenses (DUI, no insurance, DWLS, etc.), boating violations, loud music, open alcohol where prohibited, discharge of gun near neighbor’s property, etc.  Sometimes one investigation will lead to another investigation.  If an officer stops you for one issue, they will not likely turn a blind eye towards other violations they observe.   If you do enough things wrong you will be eventually caught for doing something wrong – it’s the law of averages.  Likewise, if you always follow the rules, regulations, and laws it greatly decreases your chances of being accused of an infraction or offense.

Understand That Conservation Officers Obtain Information From A Variety of Sources.  Investigations can involve the following: records of when a license was purchased; records from taxidermy, a deer processor, tracking dogs; checking the temperature of a recent animal kill to determine the time of the kill; blood trails and other physical evidence; trail cameras; witness interviews; confidential informants; videos; photographs; social media postings; the timing of social media postings; text messages; the timing of text messages; phone records, etc.  When confronted by a DNR officer you should assume that they have some sort of information or evidence that lead to their investigation.  Trying to BS your way out of a situation is likely to cause harm to your situation.  It is better to say nothing than to say something false or contradictory.  Remember – officers are trained in how they question individuals.  Assume that if you say something false or contradictory it will be either preserved in a police report or recorded and eventually used against you.

Know Your Rights.  You are not obligated to tell on yourself.  You are not obligated to volunteer information about a DNR investigation.  You have a 5th Amendment Right not to incriminate yourself.  You can request the presence of your lawyer if a police or conservation officer wants to ask questions.  It is important to remember that your statements can ultimately be used against you.  If you lie to a police or conservation officer, that is a crime and you can be arrested and prosecuted for it.  If you choose to make a statement, don’t ever lie.

You are not obligated to give consent to search your home.  If you do not consent to a home search being conducted, be clear and unambiguous with the officer that you do not give consent.  If a search warrant is obtained, you must allow the search of your home to occur.    There are some exceptions to search warrant requirements which allow for warrantless searches in certain circumstances.  If a search occurs without your permission, do not hinder or obstruct the officer in the performance of his/her duties – let your lawyer address the situation and 4th Amendment issues with the Court.  If you are unsure of your rights, contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.  You have the right to obtain legal representation to defend you and your interests at any time.

Hunters, please understand and exercise your 2nd Amendment Freedom.  The responsible and safe ownership, use, possession, and transportation of firearms is important for everybody.  Remember that DNR officers in Michigan are fully licensed peace officers that enforce more than just hunting and fishing violations.  Failing to comply with Michigan firearm laws can also lead to an arrest and prosecution.

Be Polite and Maintain Your Composure.  Swearing, being angry, disrespectful conduct, having a temper tantrum, or acting emotional is never helpful to the outcome of the case.  A DNR officer has a lot of discretion in how your case is handled.  Many prosecutors give great deference to DNR officers in terms of plea bargains, negotiations concerning the amount of restitution, and the forfeiture of property.  If you do not agree with a search, or a tactic used by the DNR in its investigation, advise your lawyer so he/she can address the situation in the most appropriate way.   Do not create a bad impression about yourself by what you say or do.

Acting in an inappropriate way can also influence the Court’s bond conditions and/or sentence (if you are convicted of an offense).  There is absolutely nothing to be gained by acting up.

If There Is An Investigation Against You, Or You Received Notice Of A Court Date, Get Legal Help Immediately.  Having an experienced lawyer might make a difference in the result you receive, depending upon your facts and circumstances.  Your lawyer will obtain a copy of all of the reports, videos, and other evidence held by the prosecution to try and determine the best defense for you.  Do not go it alone – get proper legal representation immediately.

Do not assume that you cannot afford a lawyer, or that your case is too far away in the boondocks to receive help, or that any type of lawyer will do.  Worse, do not go it alone and make the bad choice to self represent in Court.   Not having a lawyer places you at the greatest disadvantage.

Attorney Daniel Hilf, from the law firm Hilf & Hilf, PLC, has the experience and legal acumen to help you with your police or DNR issued ticket.  Please call attorney Daniel Hilf at (248)792-2590 with any criminal defense issue related to hunting and fishing in the State of Michigan.