No right to remain silent when suspected of poaching in PA

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

You have the right to remain silent — as long as the Pennsylvania Game Commission isn’t questioning you about possible poaching.

It seemingly runs counter to Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination, but the state’s Game Code makes it illegal for someone to “refuse to answer, without evasion, upon request of any representative of the commission, any pertinent question pertaining to the killing or wounding of any game or wildlife.”

CAN’T PLEAD THE FIFTH: Keeping quiet about poaching to protect yourself from self-incrimination could land you in legal trouble in Pennsylvania. One lawmaker wants to change that.

State Rep. Mark Keller, R-Franklin, has plans to excise that part of the law after one of his constituents was slapped with a summary violation and $150 fine after he wasn’t entirely forthcoming with a wildlife conservation officer investigating a possible case of poaching.

“This is not consistent with the constitutional principle that protects an individual against self-incrimination,” Keller wrote in a memo seeking support for his proposal. “Anyone accused of a crime has a right to remain silent, and this provision in the Game Code essentially penalizes people for exercising that right.”

Keller’s constituent, Central Pennsylvania farmer Jack Coble, had the charges dismissed last month after arguing his constitutional rights were violated, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s an infringement on my constitutional right. I mean, a whole lot of my constitutional rights,” he said, according to the AP.

Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau could not be immediately reached for comment about Keller’s proposal, but last month he told the AP that the requirement is part of a sub-chapter that pertains to the killing of deer for agricultural protection.

“I wouldn’t make an argument about constitutionality,” Lau told the AP. “If you’re making a claim that this is possibly unconstitutional, I would agree — possibly it is.”

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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