PGC director stresses agency supports law limiting searches

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director
Carl Roe wanted to make it very clear – his agency supports the
recent enactment of House Bill 181, which reduces search and
seizure powers of wildlife conservation officers to the same as
other law-enforcement officers in the state.

In a written statement he issued recently, Roe attempted to “put
to rest, hopefully once and for all, the false notion that the
commission’s wildlife conservation officers had more authority than
any other law enforcement officer in the commonwealth.”

For years, according to Roe, the Game Commission has been
attempting to correct the misinformation that its officers could
operate outside the boundaries set by the U.S. Constitution and
Supreme Court rulings, especially in relation to search and
seizure.

“Our WCOs follow all of the constitutional requirements and
court-issued rules and regulations regarding searches and
seizures,” he said. “They are trained to do so, and they receive
updates on changes in the laws as new court rulings are issued.

“In addition, this bill codifies a 2006 case from the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court in which the Court found that Game
Commission Officers may act pursuant to the ‘open fields’ doctrine,
which permits Officers to enter certain areas, such as pastures and
woods, without first having obtained a warrant,” Roe added.

However, as specifically noted in the bill, the authority to
enter property pursuant to the open fields doctrine does not extend
to buildings or curtilage, which is generally defined as the area
immediately adjacent to a structure that is generally enclosed and
to which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

“To enter a building or curtilage, an Officer must first obtain
a warrant or be within one of exceptions to the warrant
requirement,” he said.

Roe also noted that, annually, Game Commission wildlife
conservation officers issue between 9,000 and 10,000 citations for
a wide variety of violations, but they also issue 12,000 to 14,000
warnings.

“While we have maintained a 96 to 97 percent conviction rate for
all of the citations issued, we still only record six or seven
official complaints as a result of the more than 190,000 law
enforcement contacts we have with the public,” Roe said.

“With all of the interactions our Officers have with the public,
I believe our continued high conviction rate and low number of
official complaints speak volumes about the professionalism of our
officers, as well as their adherence to the law.

“The bottom line about this new law is that it doesn’t limit the
authority of our officers,” Roe added. “It merely brings Title 34 –
the law governing their authority – into the 21st century and is
now up to date with current case law.”

House Bill 181, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster),
passed the House by a vote of 192-0 on June 1, 2009, and received a
unanimous vote in the Senate on Sept. 27. Gov. Edward G. Rendell
signed the bill into law on Oct. 7, making it Act 64 of 2010.

 

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *