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. The authorities will do everything they can to prove they found wrongdoing. SomethingThis is against the web of regulations in which we are entangled. 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 is a deer processor and taxidermist who has been fighting back in court against government goons that insist they should be able to have any access they want. If they’re not, they will press criminal charges.

“About ten years ago we got a brand new officer in our area,” Jeremy Bennett explains. Watch this video to learn more about his situation.. “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. When we asked that question, they replied that “everybody does something unlawful, but we have to find out who you were.”

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 asked the officer to leave after he resumed his taxidermy duties and the officer agreed.” AccordingBennett is represented by the Institute for Justice. “But Jeremy was criminally charged and threatened to jail for refusing the officer’s warrantless entry into his taxidermy business. This happened a few short months later.

The fact that Ohio does not regulate deer processing or taxidermy is even more surprising. Records must be kept of who and when the animals were received. Inspections are only to verify that all paperwork is correct. However, ODNR officials have the legal right to review those records.

“Any authorized person to enforce the part can enter such establishments at all reasonable times and inspect the records, premises and operations being conducted,” states Ohio law

Problem is, ODNR claims that “reasonable”, can be defined as any decision its officers make at their discretion without considering the protections offered by the Fourth AmendmentTo the U.S. Constitution, or almost identical language in Article I Ohio Constitution.

Bennett objected in a Nov 16th, complaintThe 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-define. 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.

It is worthwhile to read the complaint for documentation about Officer Dodge’s conduct. This is the tale of a small-minded functionary who is on a power trip. Dodge isn’t the only bureaucrat that allows power to be taken away from him in ways that violate search and seizure safeguards. This often happens with the blessings 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’.

The problem with Fourth Amendment protections that are not in the ether is still a concern. However, it’s up to the person who defines “closely regulated”. Justice William Brennan stated in the dissent, that “the Court finds pervasive regulatory in the barest administration schemes.” He continued by stating that “the Court finds pervasive regulation in the barest of administrative schemes” and that it renders practically meaningless that a warrant must be obtained for commercial property administration searches.

Are taxidermy or deer processing industries “closely controlled”? You can find out more at Los Angeles v. Patel (2015)The Supreme Court ruled that hotels were not allowed to be operated. 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.

This is quite an assortment of commercial activities. It’s hard to predict if the courts will view a taxidermist or deer processor more like a hotel, junkyard, or both. Bennett’s perfectly rational description of Bennetts business as “harmless, largely unregulated,” seems like a win. We’re not talking about court that created administrative exceptions for the Fourth Amendment from scratch. This is anyone’s guess.

Joe Gay of the Institute for Justice says that if a recordkeeping obligation is enough to justify warrantless inspections Jeremy’s businesses, then only a few businesses would be covered by the Fourth Amendment.

Pay attention to Jeremy Bennett’s suit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. This is not a case about one man’s fight with inconsiderate 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.