Ohio Prosecuted a Taxidermist for Asking an Inspector to Come Back Later

Law enforcement officers who tell you that they are certain everyone is a crime will inadvertently sum up a reason why they place limitations on the search for evidence. They’ll do whatever it takes to find the wrongdoing if they are certain they will find it. SomethingThis is against the web of regulations in which we are ensnared. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources claims that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to them, as do many agencies with regulatory power. Jeremy Bennett, a taxidermist/deer processor, is fighting back against the government goons in court who claim they have right to access his property at any hour they like and press criminal charges if they are even slightly inconvenienced.

“About ten year ago, we had a new officer in our area,” Jeremy Bennett explains. Video about his misery. “And it got progressively more tense and more intrusive. Although the requirements had not changed for us, the manner in which they conducted inspections clearly had. We were told that everyone does something illegal and that we had to ask them.

This sniffy attitude is not only based on the assumption that everyone is violating the law but it also includes the assertion that police officers are entitled to inspect any business premises at their discretion to check for violations. Christopher Dodge from the ODNR came to Bennett’s venison-processing company to examine it. When asked about the other premises, Bennett stated that he shut down the taxidermy portion of his business when hunting season was over so he could devote his attention to deer. 

“Jeremy requested him to come back in a few more weeks after he’d resumed taxidermy work, and the officer did not object.” AccordingBennett was represented by the Institute for Justice. “But Jeremy was arrested and threatened with imprisonment a few months later for refusing to allow the warrantless officer into his taxidermy shop.”

It is surprising that Ohio has no regulations for deer processing and taxidermy. All Ohio requires are records of animals received, from whom, and the dates they were received. Inspections are only to verify that all paperwork is correct. However, ODNR officers have legal authority to inspect those records.

According to the law, “Anyone authorized to enforce this section may enter such establishments or plants at any reasonable hour and inspect records and premises that are used for operations.” Ohio law

The problem with ODNR is its insistence that reasonable means whatever it pleases, regardless of the protections provided by the Fourth Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution. Article I has almost the same language Ohio Constitution.

Bennett objected in a Nov 16th, complaintIn the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. “ODNR has no limitations on the frequency, duration, scope, and timing of its inspectors’ inspections, beyond that which is self-defined. Worse still, a shop owner who stands on his right to refuse a warrantless inspection—even if he just wants the officer to come back at a more convenient time—can be criminally prosecuted and thrown in jail.”

Bennett requests the court to declare warrantless warrantless inspections illegal and “enjoin defendants from conducting such and other warrantless inspections in future.” Responding to questions, an ODNR representative said, “The Department has been reviewing the Complaint” and would respond appropriately. The Department cannot comment further on this matter as it is currently in litigation.

You should read this complaint to see the details of Dodge’s behavior. It tells the story about a corrupt functionary going on a power-trip. Dodge isn’t the only bureaucrat who allows power to go to his head. This often happens with the blessings of the courts. Although it’s unclear what the law means, courts have generally held that businesses are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the following for the Supreme Court majority: “An expectation regarding privacy in commercial premises however is different from, or indeed less than, an equivalent expectation in an individual’s home.” New York v. Burger (1987). “This expectation is especially attenuated when commercial property is used in industries that are ‘closely controlled’.

However, the issue of Fourth Amendment exceptions in out-of the-ether cases is not the only problem. What constitutes “closely controlled” depends on the individual. Justice William Brennan noted in his dissent that the Court found pervasive regulation within the barest administrative schemes. The decision renders meaningless the rule that an administrative search of commercial property requires a warrant, he said.

Is taxidermy and deer processing therefore “closely regulated industries”? You can find out more at Los Angeles v. Patel (2015)According to the Supreme Court, hotels can be considered for a permit. It is notThese industries are closely controlled and protected by the Fourth Amendment. In fact, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out, “Over the past 45 years, the Court has identified only four industries that ‘have such a history of government oversight that no reasonable expectation of privacy … could exist for a proprietor over the stock of such an enterprise.'” These industries include liquor sales, gun dealing, mining and the operation of an auto junkyard.

The list is a lot of different commercial activities. It is difficult to know if the courts will consider a taxidermist, deer processor or hotel more similar to a junkyard or hotel. Bennett’s very reasonable description of Bennett’s business as “harmless” and “largely unregulated seems to be a convincing argument. However, we are referring to courts who created administrative exceptions under the Fourth Amendment completely outright. This is anyone’s guess.

Joe Gay, an attorney at the Institute for Justice comments that if a recordkeeping requirement was enough to justify warrantless inspections of Jeremy’s business then very few businesses or none would be protected under the Fourth Amendment.

You should be watching Jeremy Bennett’s suit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The case involves more than one businessman fighting noxious bureaucrats. This case is about Americans’ ability to defend their property against warrantless searches by government officials. They have made rules that allow them to do what they like, and are exempt from any constitutional limitations.