Judge denies appeals in Lake Tahoe bear trap tampering case
Washoe County District Court Judge Janet J. Berry’s decision to strike down the appeals was the right move, the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza writes in its editorial this week.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A Washoe County judge has denied a Reno woman’s appeal of a 30-day jail sentence handed down last year for illegally tampering with a black bear trap at Lake Tahoe.
Season Morrison, 36, and her mother, Cheryl Morrison, 64, of Truckee, were charged after a motion-activated camera captured them interfering with a trap state wildlife officials set in October 2013 on private property.
“Season Morrison pulled a pin, dropping the cage door, while (Cheryl Morrison) threw a rock into the cage to trip the cage door and removed the bait bag from the cage,” according to court documents.
After a day-long hearing last April — in which the Morrisons maintained the trap had been set illegally by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and therefore their actions were legal — they were convicted May 19, 2014, of interfering with a wildlife officer and tampering with a motor vehicle.
Incline Village Justice of the Peace E. Alan Tiras ordered both on Oct. 13, 2014, to complete community service and pay $1,000 fines, and he sentenced Season Morrison to 30 days in jail.
Both Morrisons appealed Tiras’ ruling to Washoe County District Court.
On March 26, 2015, District Court Judge Janet J. Berry ruled against both appeals, saying Tiras’ ruling was supported by evidence and free of error.
The Morrisons have 30 days to appeal Berry’s decision. Their attorney, Incline Village lawyer Bradley Paul Elley, said that’s not likely, meaning Season Morrison would begin serving a month in county jail once that deadline expires.
“We have the right to another appeal, but my clients apparently don’t have the resources to pursue it,” Elley said Tuesday.
In April, both women reportedly testified they felt the trap was closer to a public road than allowed by Nevada law, which states, “It is unlawful for any person, company or corporation to place or set any steel trap, used for the purpose of trapping mammals, larger than a No. 1 Newhouse trap, within 200 feet of any public road or highway within this state.”
According to court documents, however, an aluminum, culvert-type trap was used with permission of the property owner in an effort to catch what NDOW had labeled a nuisance bear.
The Morrisons argued that the law is ambiguous and vague, “such that a person of ordinary intelligence could interpret the statute to be applicable to the bear trap used by NDOW,” according to documents.
Elley reiterated that argument Tuesday, saying he was “quite disappointed” by Berry’s ruling.
He pointed to the 2014 ruling by Stateline Judge Richard Glasson in favor of Sparks lawmaker Ira Hansen, the former Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, regarding illegal animal trapping in Fallon, Nev.
During that trial, Hansen’s attorney, Philip Kreitlein, also brought up the “ambiguous” language in the law, which was passed in 1931.
In his ruling that found Hansen not guilty on four counts, Glasson said the legislature “says one thing and it excludes the other” regarding the law’s fickle definition of certain traps.
“You can’t pick and choose which way to interpret the language of a statute,” Elley said Tuesday. “That’s not supposed to be allowed.”
The Incline case is the first in which people were prosecuted in Nevada for interfering with the capture of troublesome bears at Lake Tahoe.
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