Hunting laws in Michigan are always subject to revision. It is important to become aware of any changes in the law before the beginning of any hunting season by reading each year’s Michigan Hunting Digest.
In Michigan, safety zones are considered to be all areas within 150 yards (450 feet) of any occupied house, building, cabin, barn, or any building used for a farming operation. Hunting with a firearm is prohibited within a safety zone unless the hunter has the written permission of the owner, occupant, or renter of the property. Pursuant to Michigan Compiled Law 324.40111(7) a person who commits a safety zone violation may be charged with a misdemeanor that may subject the person to a maximum of 90 days in jail, probation with conditions, a fine of anywhere from $50 to $500, Court costs, and State fees. The sentencing Judge also has the discretion to revoke hunting privileges pursuant to Michigan Compiled Law 324.43559.
It is important to note that safety zones apply to hunting only. It does not include shooting ranges, target shooting, law enforcement activities, or the lawful discharge of firearms for any non-hunting purpose.
How are persons prosecuted for safety zone violations? Usually it begins with a report made to a police or DNR officer. I previously had a case in which my client was reported by his next door neighbor. The client lived in a newer subdivision that backed up to an open field. Outside his bay window he observed a 6 point buck that he could not resist, and he shot the buck in what was essentially his back yard. The DNR officer came to the property and went into this back open field area. From the blood and the imprint in the tall grass where the buck fell, the DNR officer was able to establish the location where the buck was shot. The client (who was not represented at the time), provided a statement to the DNR officer as to his location at the time he discharged his rifle, which corroborated the statement made by the neighbor.
Having a neighbor report a neighbor is a rather common occurrence. Most hunters should assume that a fellow hunter or neighbor are likely to report any hunting related violations of the law that they observe.
If you receive a ticket for a safety zone violation, what comes next? In most instances the hunter will need to address the matter in the State of Michigan District Court that has jurisdiction of the case. A few jurisdictions may allow the infraction to be handled as a “payable misdemeanor”, which allows for the case to be resolved by the payment of a fine, instead of having to appear in Court. In most jurisdictions in Michigan the hunter will have to appear before a Judge or magistrate in Court for an arraignment (a legal proceeding in which a Defendant is notified about: the charge or charges filed against them; the possible penalty; and the ability to be represented by legal counsel. The Judge or magistrate will also set a bond, which is an amount of money that will need to be posted, and conditions followed, to help ensure that the Defendant will appear at all Court dates and not pose a danger to the community. The Defendant is permitted to enter a plea of guilt at arraignment, however this is usually not advisable so the lawyer has a chance to try and obtain a better result.
The Defendant through his lawyer will have the opportunity to try to negotiate with the prosecution to try and reach a resolution of the case. Some Judges will even allow the Defendant through his/her attorney to enter into a sentence agreement to negotiate the outcome of the case (which may possibly include no jail time, and/or to lessen or eliminate any penalty related to hunting privileges. There is no consistency across the State of Michigan concerning the type (if any) of plea bargain that might be reached. There is no consistency across the State of Michigan concerning the availability and terms of any sentence agreement that a Judge may enter into.
Ultimately you will have a choice to either resolve the case or have a trial At trial, the prosecution will be required to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for any conviction to occur.
When it comes to these types of cases, your best bet is to have a lawyer who is experienced handling DNR related cases. In Michigan, the recommended attorney for all DNR cases is attorney Daniel Hilf.