As the Fall hunting season begins: hunters beware!

Poaching in Utah Criminal Defense

If asked most hunters would say Poaching is “to kill any animal when you had no right to”.

The common sense definition of poaching makes sense, unfortunately the Utah Code is not so cut and dry. Utah criminal law has variying degrees of mens rea or mental levels of culpability that can lead to a criminal conviction. They are as follows: 1) intentionally, 2) knowingly, 3) recklessly, and 4) negligently.  See (Utah Code § 76-2-101(1)(b)(i) ).

Poaching in Utah Criminal Defense
Poaching in Utah Criminal Defense

People generally tend to think that if they did not intend for something to happen, or did not mean for a specific result to occur, then they should not be found guilty. However, do not be fooled, Utah law, is not written in such a way.

Under the Wildlife Resources Code of Utah § 23-20-3 states, in part, that:

(1) Except as provided in this title or a rule, proclamation, or order of the Wildlife Board, a person may not:

(a) take protected wildlife or its parts;

(b) collect, import, possess, transport, propagate, store, donate, transfer, or export protected wildlife or its parts;

(c) take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, donate, or trade protected wildlife or its parts without having previously procured the necessary licenses, permits, tags, stamps, certificates of registration, authorizations, and receipts required in this title or a rule, proclamation, or order of the Wildlife Board;

(d) take protected wildlife with any weapon, ammunition, implement, tool, device, or any part of any of these not specifically authorized in this title or a rule, proclamation, or order of the Wildlife Board;

This statute is basically a catch all, and allows for prosecution even when a Utah hunter did not intentionally break the law. An individual can even be prosecuted under this section if they made an honest mistake as to their location (thinking they were on a different tract of land).

The statute is allowed to catch ‘honest mistakes’ because of paragraph (3)(b). The paragraph says: “does so with criminal negligence as defined in Subsection 76-2-103(4). § 76-2-103(4) says:

“With criminal negligence or is criminally negligent with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise in all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

A hunting example of criminal negligence would be if a hunter, who has a Utah hunting license, thought he was on land he could shoot the animal and was actually 5 feet off the land. Even though the hunter did not intend to take an animal illegally (poach), and had a license, he could be prosecuted under § 23-20-3.

Hunters, be careful. Know your location before you pull the trigger. Because, even though you have a license, and do not have the intent to take an animal unlawfully “It was an honest mistake”.  You could still be prosecuted for an honest mistake, or in the eyes of Utah law, criminal negligence.

Source: Utah State Legislature, “Title 23 Utah Criminal Code Chapter 20 Section 3,” accessed on Sept. 19, 2014

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