Steamboat Springs Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King's trial for trespassing in Routt County Court lasted just minutes Wednesday afternoon, but it might not be entirely a dead issue.
King was issued a citation in September 2013 for unlawfully entering private land in south Routt County to hunt, but on Wednesday, the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the case 30 minutes before the trial was supposed to begin because it could not prove that King knowingly entered private property to hunt.
Routt County Chief Deputy District Attorney Matt Karzen said Wednesday that there was some uncertainty as to whether the violation in question was a strict liability offense, which doesn’t require someone to be aware of the law they’re breaking to be held liable (for example, someone breaking the speed limit doesn’t have to know what the speed limit is to be held liable).
If the violation isn’t a strict liability offense, the district attorney’s office would have been required to prove that King knew he was hunting on land that he did not have permission to access.
The motion states that King was a guest on a piece of property owned by Barb and Alfie Fisher south of Toponas when he crossed into an adjoining parcel owned by Carl and Diane Luppens. According to the motion, there has been “bad blood” between the two families for years before the incident involving King.
King had permission to hunt on the Fishers’ land and has said he thought he was on that land. The fencing between the Fisher and Luppens properties has multiple openings and gates, according to the motion, and the signage is potentially misleading, with old signs not being removed or being on the wrong side of the property line.
“Imposing criminal liability on an ‘innocent’ or ‘good faith’ trespasser under such circumstances is not dissimilar to prosecuting a person traveling below the posted speed limit for speeding because the speed limit had changed but the signs were not replaced,” the motion states.
Routt County Judge James Garrecht accepted the motion to dismiss but said that dismissal doesn’t preclude civil litigation that could arise from the offense.
King was present Wednesday but did not speak other than to say he had not retained counsel.
Carl Luppens asked to address the court and said he was “astounded” by the motion to dismiss.
It is well established, Luppens said, that hunters have an obligation to know where they are. The dismissal would upset established precedent and allow hunters to trespass with impunity, he said, creating “bedlam” in the woods.
Judge Garrecht said he didn’t think this case was necessarily setting precedent for future trespassing cases.
It’s the district attorney’s office’s decision, he said, whether or not to pursue the charges, adding that a motion can be filed to urge the office to pursue the case.
Luppens, sitting in the front of the courtroom, nodded and jotted a note down when the motion was mentioned.
After the court was dismissed, Luppens said he would look into the ability to petition the district attorney’s office to pursue the case.
“It’s essential,” Luppens said. “This sets a horrible precedent.”
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz
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