Utah Legislature Votes to Stiffen Penalties for Poachers

A bill to make habitual wanton wildlife destruction a felony in Utah passed both the House and Senate, and is currently just days away from the governor’s desk for signature.

Late last year, Rep. Curt Oda (R-Clearfield) proposed H.B. 68, Habitual Wanton Destruction of Wildlife, to address concerns regarding poachers who willfully and repeatedly violate wildlife protection laws but are only charged with misdemeanors. Oda told the Salt Lake Tribune of one such individual from Huntington, Utah, who killed seven deer but could not be charged with a felony because their racks did not measure up to required size to constitute trophy hunting.

As the title suggests, H.B. 68 as amended intends to punish those who are responsible for repeatedly violating Utah laws protecting wildlife. Specifically, this bill targets individuals who have taken big game animals in violation of Utah Code §23-20-4 and who have previously been convicted of two similar violations within seven years.

Habitual destruction of wildlife is categorized as a third-degree felony. Under Utah law, third-degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

During the legislative process, the House amended H.B. 68 to limit consideration of prior wildlife poaching convictions to a seven-year window. A proposed House amendment to define wildlife poaching as a class-A misdemeanor instead of a third-degree felony failed.

This bill came with some controversy; Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) expressed concerns in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune that H.B. 68 could invite federal law officials to harass Utahns hunting on federal lands. Ultimately though, the bill had enough support to pass through both the House and Senate.

For those facing allegations of poaching, though, this proposed law means that it will likely become increasingly important to aggressively defend against these allegations. The consequences of a single misdemeanor conviction are more significant when such a conviction can expose a hunter to the possibility of a future felony conviction.

For more information regarding this law or any other legal issues pertaining to poaching, speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

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