PA Farmer Shoots Holes in Obscure Code

An unusual Pennsylvania court case has shot holes in an obscure provision in the state wildlife code that holds it unlawful to refuse to answer or evade questions from a game officer regarding killing deer related to agricultural damage.

Jack Coble, 60, spent thousands fighting his $150 fine for declining to answer specific questions from a game warden about who was on his farm property, based on his rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On the evening of Nov. 7, 2012, Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Steven Shaffer, investigating a tip someone was spotlighting deer, said he believed Coble was being evasive when he asked questions about the alleged incident. According to the Associated Press, Coble and the warden then drove around Coble's 120-acre farm and came across Coble's daughter and another person in the possession of a dead deer.

As reported by AP, Deputy Shaffer testified Coble became "irate" and ordered him off of his property. Later, when things "calmed down, (Coble) admitted to being present when the deer was shot."

Deputy Shaffer cited Coble with a summary charge of the fourth degree (the fine totaling $150) under section 2126(a)(6) of Title 34 of the Game and Wildlife Code, which states it is unlawful for any person acting under the provisions for "destruction for agricultural protection" – an assumption made by the deputy – to "refuse to answer, without evasion, upon request of any representative of the [PA Game] commission, any pertinent question pertaining to the killing or wounding of any game or wildlife killed or wounded, or the disposition of the entire carcass or any part thereof."

Coble hired an attorney to fight the charge, believing he was not compelled to answer questions initially under his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

On March 21, the Perry County Prosecutor handling the matter agreed the argument put forth by Coble's attorney had merit, and the state Attorney General and Game Commission didn't contest the appeal.

When asked by the wire service why he decided to spend thousands of dollars to fight the charge, a vindicated Coble said, "It's an infringement on my constitutional right. I mean, a whole lot of my constitutional rights."

According to reports, The Pennsylvania Game Commission said the provision used to charge Coble had been utilized by game wardens only four times in the past 12 years. As a subchapter of the Game and Wildlife Code, it specifically addresses the killing of deer related crop damage on agricultural lands.

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