10/8/2019Federal Court Upholds Game Warden Roadblocks
An interim order by a federal judge supports roadblocks that stop all motorists to see if they have been hunting or fishing without a license.
The US Supreme Court in 1990 upheld the constitutionality of DUI roadblocks because of the "magnitude of the drunken driving problem." In an order last week, US District Judge David C. Nye gave his blessing to Idaho officials who set up roadblocks to question and search all passing motorists on the off chance they might have been hunting with an expired hunting license.
On November 18, 2017, Steve Tanner was driving on Meadow Creek Road in Bonners Ferry when he was ordered to pull over at a game warden roadblock set up just two miles from his home. Tanner ignored the roadblock and kept driving, so two officers armed with AR-15s chased after him in their patrol car. They arrested Tanner for failing to stop, even though he is neither a hunter nor a fisherman and he had no game that needed checking.
Tanner challenged the stop and his arrest on the grounds that the roadblocks were not authorized by the state legislature, which only granted authority for setting up "check stations" to stop sportsmen -- not all passing motorists. He pointed out that there were no large warning signs or use of flashing blue lights, as is required at DUI roadblocks under state law. The checkpoint was also set up on a curve in the road, making it even harder to notice. He asked a federal court to issue an order prohibiting the Department of Fish and Game from stopping non-hunters.
The department argued that because it is impossible to tell just by looking at a vehicle whether it is being driven by a hunter that the statute allows wardens to stop all traffic. The court agreed.
"Not every seizure violates the Fourth Amendment: only unreasonable seizures do so," Judge Nye wrote. "These routine check stations are designed to quickly and efficiently gather the necessary information to maintain and protect Idaho's wildlife. Thus, the quick stops at the wildlife check stations effectively advance the public's interest in wildlife conservation."
The court noted that drivers were stopped and asked whether they were hunting. Those who answer "no" are allowed to proceed.
"In considering these three factors, the court determines that Tanner has failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits and this factor weighs against a preliminary injunction," Judge Nye concluded. "Because the seizure was likely reasonable in this case, Tanner is unlikely to succeed in his arguments that Idaho Fish and Game violated his Fourth Amendment rights."
Judge Nye has not issued a final ruling in the case. A copy of the order is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.