Tennessee is a beautiful state that is rich in wildlife. Accordingly, Tennesseans have a longstanding and proud tradition of hunting and trapping that dates back to our founding and continue to this day. Despite the length and importance of this custom to many Tennessee residents, most do not realize how detailed and numerous the regulations that govern Tennessee hunters really are; specifically, most people do not realize they can face criminal penalties, including steep fines and jail time, for hunting illegally in this state. As such, this article provides an overview of the authority of TWRA Wildlife Officers, as well as a discussion of the more common violations that occur and their respective penalties.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Wildlife Officers:
Per their website: “The Mission of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is to preserve, conserve, manage, protect, and enhance the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats of the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the citizens of Tennessee and its visitors. The agency will foster the safe use of the state’s waters through a program of law enforcement, education and access.”
While their mission statement may sound generic, most do not realize the powers that Tennessee Wildlife Officers possess. Not only do TWRA Wildlife Officers enforce the Tennessee hunting, fishing, and trapping laws, they also have the authority to enforce all other state laws. Each county in Tennessee has its own force of full-time officers who typically fulfill a number of roles, which include:
- patrolling assigned areas to enforce the laws governing the taking
- possessing, transporting, and disposal of wildlife
- investigating suspected hunting and trapping violations
- checking to make sure hunters and trappers have the correct licenses and tags
- ensuring hunters have not exceeded their bag limits.
The important implication from the foregoing paragraph, to all hunters and non-hunters alike, is that Wildlife Officers are authorized to charge and arrest you for all criminal offenses, wildlife related or not.
Typical Hunting and Wildlife Related Offenses:
A discussion about all wildlife and conservation related offenses would require hundreds of pages to cover in full. Thus, the following discussion outlines some of the most common offenses committed by Tennessee hunters. It is important to note that all of the offenses listed and discussed are individual and separate, which means they can overlap. Put simply, a person can be charged with multiple violations and, upon conviction, will face penalties for each.
- Illegally killing or possessing game:
Perhaps the most basic and broad violation, therefore the most potentially troublesome, is the mere illegal taking or possession of illegally killed game. Considered a Class B misdemeanor, the illegal killing or mere possession of an illegally killed animal constitutes its own offense, separate and distinct from any other violations with which a hunter can be charged. This means that any time a separate violation results in an animal being killed, a separate charge and fine will be added. Moreover each, respective animal illegally taken or possessed constitutes its own separate offense. The implication of this scheme being that an individual can potentially receive numerous charges from one set of circumstances. Class B misdemeanors can result in fines up to $500.00 and a potential jail sentence of up to six (6) months. However, it is within the Judge’s discretion to order a separate $1,000 fine, or more depending on the circumstances, for each animal illegally taken or possessed.
- Hunting outside of season:
Hunting big game (i.e. Deer, Bear, and Elk) outside of season is considered a Class B misdemeanor and, as such, can result in a fine up to $500.00 and a potential jail sentence of six (6) months. What is important to note about this charge, however, is the violation is “hunting” outside of season; the implication being that an animal does not have to be taken for a hunter to be charged with and convicted of the offense
Spotlighting can be considered either a Class B or Class C misdemeanor. In certain circumstances, spotlighting has a successful defense. Again, depending on the circumstances of the individual case, an owner of property or one with written permission of the owner (which he has on his person) may be permitted to “willfully throw or cast, or cause to be thrown or cast, the rays of a spotlight, headlight or other artificial light” in an “apparent attempt to locate wildlife.” However, even if an individual has a successful defense to this individual charge, he or she may still be charged with a separate violation.
- Hunting from or across a public road, or near a dwelling:
This offense is one with which most are familiar. Tennessee law provides that it is illegal to hunt within 100 yards of a dwelling without having prior permission from the owner. It is also illegal to hunt from a road or after leaving a road with the intent to immediately return to the vehicle. Because of the serious public safety concerns inherent in this issue, a conviction of this charge results in a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a potential sentence of 11 months and 29 days and a fine of up to $2,500.00.
- Hunting from a motor vehicle while in motion:
Tennessee law provides that it is “unlawful to chase, hunt, or kill” any game in the state of Tennessee from “any craft propelled by electric, gasoline, steam or sail power, or airplane or hydroplane or from any automobile or motor vehicle.” Like hunting across a road or near a dwelling, conviction of this violation will result in a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a jail sentence up to 11 months and 29 days and a fine up to $2,500.00.
- Hunting on land without permission:
Hunting on land without the landowner’s permission is an offense all its own and is a Class C misdemeanor. A conviction can result in a sentence of 30 days and a fine of up to $50.00.
While wildlife related crimes are not what typically comes to mind when one thinks about criminal law, the penalties can be severe. If you are charged by a TWRA Wildlife Officer, please contact one of the experiencedattorneys at Batson Nolan PLC to discuss your case.