Ohio Prosecuted a Taxidermist for Asking an Inspector to Come Back Later
When law enforcement officers tell you they’re certain that everybody is a lawbreaker, they inadvertently summarize a good reason why we place restrictions on searches for evidence of legal infractions. If the authorities are convinced that they’ll find wrongdoing, they’ll make sure they find something that runs afoul of one the spider web of rules in which we’re entangled. But, like a lot of agencies with regulatory powers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) claims the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to its officers. That has taxidermist and deer processor Jeremy Bennett fighting back in court against government goons who insist that they should have access to his property any time they please, and who press criminal charges if even mildly inconvenienced.
“About 10 years ago, we got a new officer for our area,” Jeremy Bennett explains in a video about his plight. “And things got progressively more tense, things got more intrusive. The requirements for us had not changed, but the way that they were going about the inspections had definitely changed. And when we questioned that, we were given the statement that ‘everybody does something illegal, we just have to find out what you did.'”
The sniffy attitude applies not just to the assumption that everybody is in violation of the law, but also in the insistence that officers have the right to access business establishments at will to look for evidence of violations. When ODNR officer Christopher Dodge came by to inspect Bennett’s venison-processing business and asked to see the rest of his premises, Bennett explained that he closed the taxidermy side of his business during hunting season so he could focus on deer.
“Jeremy asked him to return in a few weeks when he had resumed working on taxidermy and the officer left without objecting,” according to the Institute for Justice, which represents Bennett. “But a few months later, Jeremy was criminally prosecuted and threatened with jail time for ‘refusing’ the officer warrantless entry into his taxidermy shop.”
What makes the matter even stranger is that neither deer processing nor taxidermy are regulated in Ohio beyond a requirement for records of when animals are received and from whom. Inspections are just to ensure the paperwork is in order. But ODNR officers do have the legal authority to check those records.
“Any person authorized to enforce this part may enter such establishment or plants at all reasonable hours and inspect the records and premises where operations are being carried on,” says Ohio law.
The problem is that ODNR insists t
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