Drastic Increase in Utah Poaching Incidents Past Two Years

Utah poaching incidents increase

Photo: Agricultural Research Service/Wikimedia Commons

According to recent figures from state wildlife officials, poaching incidents in Utah have increased by more than 30 percent over the past two years. However, officials say these numbers may not be representative of what is actually happening and may still increase in the coming days.

Poaching: The Many Factors of an Often Unsolved Crime

Given recent news about a protected gray wolf shot by a hunter who allegedly claims he thought it was a coyote, the issue of poaching and shooting protected animals in general is definitely in the public eye.

According to an Associated Press article, authorities have reported that more than 1,287 animals were killed illegally in 2014, however those numbers may increase as patrolling wildlife officers find more animals. In 2013, the numbers were 958.

Because the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources relies on their officers finding the animals or getting tips on someone poaching wildlife, they estimate that the numbers are much higher if poachers are able to dispose of the body and keep the incident to themselves.

Of the poaching incidents in Utah, the largest numbers of animals are deer, who are sought for their antlers. Box Elder County wildlife officer Mike Kinghorn said the bodies are often found without their heads. Other animals on the 2014 list include elk, moose, buffalo, bears, eagles, a desert tortoise, and even a pelican.

Poaching Penalties in Utah

Poaching occurs under three main circumstances: if the animal is killed out of season, if the hunter doesn’t have a license, or the hunter takes more animals than the state allows.

Per Utah Criminal Code 23-20-4, poaching is considered “wanton destruction of protected wildlife” and ranges from a class B misdemeanor up to a third degree felony. This is determined by the value of the animal as valuated by that particular section (and whether or not the animal is considered a “trophy animal” such as a deer, in which case it is a felony).

In addition to fines and potential jail time imposed as a result of the charge, restitution is generally imposed on the offender based on a list of animals and subsequent restitution charges as found in Utah Criminal Code 23-20-4.5. For example, as a trophy animal, poaching deer would be considered a felony and have an additional minimum of $8,000 in restitution.

Poaching is a serious crime just to have a trophy on your wall. If you or someone you know has been accused of poaching, make sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests.

Iron County Prosecutors Drop Ag-gag Charges, Law Examined

Utah ag-gag charges dropped

Photo: Matthias M/Wikimedia Commons

Four animal activists who were allegedly on private property at a hog farm in Iron County in September have been released from charges of Utah’s agricultural interference law, also known as an ag-gag law. The activists will still face criminal trespass charges, and many are wondering when it comes to ag-gag laws, why trespassing charges aren’t sufficient and exactly who these other laws are protecting. In the case of many animal rights activists, they believe it’s not necessarily who is being protected but a certain type of misbehavior that is being protected.

Ag-gag in Iron County

The four activists from California and Maryland were members of a group known as the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), and the hog farm was Circle Four Farms, a part of Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of the world’s largest pork producer. According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, the attorney for the activists, T. Matthew Phillips, stated that the four wanted to document the pigs’ journey from the farm to a California slaughterhouse.

According to the FARM website, they are a nonprofit group that is “working to end the use of animals as food through public education and grassroots activism.” While they claim that most of their programs are aimed at engaging “likely target audiences … and [nudging] them along the vegan path,” they also state that “[o]ccasionally, we seek to capture media attention through dramatic displays.”

Attorney Phillips says the Circle Four Farms incident was not one of these examples of “dramatic display.” In fact, he states that the four were actually on a public roadway and were only capturing images of farm buildings, not of the workers or animals.

However, the wording of Utah’s ag-gag law 76-6-112 states that a person is guilty of agricultural interference if they knowingly or intentionally record “an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation” without the consent of the owner. The law specifies several acts that are prohibited, including leaving a recording a device on the premises, obtaining a job under false pretenses to record activity, recording activity as a regular employee of the facility, or trespassing on private property to get such images or sounds.

Given the fact that Iron County prosecutors are still charging the four activists with criminal trespass, they must differ with Phillips, however, Circle Four Farms stated that they didn’t wish to pursue the agricultural interference charges.

Ag-gag Under the Microscope and Put on Trial

Utah Rep. John G. Mathis (R-Vernal) sponsored HB 187 in 2012. The bill went through two revisions before being ultimately approved. According to an article in Deseret News, Mathis claimed the reason for sponsoring this bill was that he wanted to put an end to “animal-rights terrorists” out to destroy the agricultural industry. He was quoted as saying that animal protection groups such as FARM and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were using these investigations as propaganda to promote their own organizations, especially in fundraising efforts.

Opposition to the ag-gag laws—which are currently on the books in five other states—say these laws are violations of the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They state that the First Amendment protecting free speech and press has specifically led to reform in the food industry in the past, citing such books as Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” which was pivotal in leading the government to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

If convicted of criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor per Utah Criminal Code 76-6-206, the four activists could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Of the six states with ag-gag laws, only one other person has been charged with violation of the law. In February of 2013, Amy Meyer was charged for videotaping the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper. However, charges against her were also dropped, with the reasoning cited as either public outcry or the fact that Meyer’s video footage showed that she was on public property at the time of her filming.

On a larger scale, in July of 2013, two national nonprofit organizations, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and PETA, filed a lawsuit against the State of Utah challenging the ag-gag law for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Attorneys for the state attempted to argue that the case should be thrown out, however, according to an August 2014 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby has refused.

Even though he didn’t dismiss the case, Shelby has said that at this point, the plaintiffs have failed to show how the statute has resulted in past injury as no one is currently being prosecuted under the statute or how it will cause future injury, but the case will still have its proverbial day in court which means it will have to stand up to further public scrutiny.

New Public Enemy No. 1 Warrant Includes Attempted Murder, Other Charges

Attempted murder charges for Public Enemy No. 1

Photo: Unified Police Department Metro Gang Unit/KSL News

The Salt Lake City Metro Gang Unit named a new Public Enemy No. 1 on Friday, Jan. 16. The warrant for his arrest includes charges of attempted murder and felony discharge of a weapon. Currently an adult, the man has a juvenile record as well.

Not His First Charges

According to a report from KSL News, the state has issued a $50,000 warrant for Michael Steven Bonilla, 19, a member of a violent street gang. The warrant includes “six counts of attempted murder and four counts of felony discharge of a weapon.”

While investigators have said that Bonilla has been arrested as a result of assault and drug-related charges in the past, it is unclear if these counts relate to those charges. In 2013, when Bonilla was 17, he was arrested and charged with the same counts of attempted murder and discharge of a weapon with gang enhancements, as well as obstructing justice. This was in relation to a drive-by shooting in Kearns. Even though the numbers of that incident match the numbers on the current warrant, the report didn’t state if the warrant stemmed from the same incident.

What is clear is that Bonilla is currently at-large. Police have described him as being 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing approximately 150 pounds, with brown eyes and hair and the number “801” tattooed on the back of his head.

The Metro Gang Unit said anyone with information should contact them through the Unified Police Department at (801) 743-7000 and their calls will remain anonymous.

Attempted Murder Almost as Serious as Aggravated Murder

According to Utah Code 76-4-102, attempted murder is considered an inchoate offense, meaning a crime of preparing for or seeking to commit another crime. The attempt to commit aggravated murder, resulting in serious bodily injury, is punishable by a prison sentence of no fewer than 15 years and potentially life.

In contrast to attempted murder, the act of aggravated murder is punishable by life in prison without parole, or no less than 25 years.

Either way, these are very serious charges. If you or someone you know has been charged with attempted murder, make sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney either for legal advice or to handle your case and look out for your best interests.