Jim Porter: Buying and selling bald and golden eagle feathers | SierraSun.com

Jim Porter: Buying and selling bald and golden eagle feathers

Jim Porter
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act makes it illegal to offer to sell or sell, offer to buy or buy, Bald or Golden Eagles or eagle feathers. Appropriately so. So who would be brazen and stupid enough to violate that obvious law?

Selling Golden Eagle Feathers

Meet Ricky Wahchumwah. Ricky Wahchumwah, lets call him Wahchumwah for short, is a tribal Indian in the Pacific Northwest. The court case does not say which tribe.

Two unnamed tribal members told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Wahchumwah was selling eagle parts, which of course, piqued their interest. Feathered their fancy.

Special Agent Robert Romero began developing a rapport with Wahchumwah in April 2008 at a powwow in Missoula, Montana. A powwow, seriously. Romero claimed to have an interest in eagle feathers and after the powwow Romero bought a set of eagle wings from Wahchumwah for $400.

Later Romero and Wahchumwah exchanged text messages which culminated in the agent’s purchasing a Golden Eagle tail. Later, Romero visited Wahchumwah at his residence to discuss buying eagle tail feathers.

Hidden Camera

In fact, Romero visited wearing a concealed audio-video recording device with a little camera in a front buttonhole, 007 style. Romero purchased some eagle plumes and Wahchumwah talked about all the feathers he had sold, basically incriminating himself – on camera.

30 Days in Prison

A jury ultimately convicted Wahchumwah on a variety counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and a related, similar Lacey Act. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison followed by two years of supervised release.

Did Wahchumwah realize his wrongs and vow to turn his life around by dedicating the rest of his life to protecting endangered species? Are you kidding?

Illegal Search

Wahchumwah appealed his conviction contending the warrantless audio-video recording of the illicit sales transaction inside his home by Romero violated his Fourth Amendment right against wrongful search and seizure. Fish and Wildlife should have gotten a search warrant.

No Expectation of Privacy

Wahchumwah’s attorney argued a case called Nerber where without a search warrant, agents installed a hidden video camera in the suspect’s house which recorded illegal activities. No can do. The federal Court of Appeals found the Nerber case not on point.

The Court wrote that a Defendant generally has no expectation of privacy in something that he voluntarily reveals to a government agent like Romero. When Wahchumwah invited Agent Romero into his home, he forfeited his expectation of privacy as those areas were “knowingly exposed” to Romero. Romero could see the evidence, so he could film the evidence. Different than installing a camera in the house. Conviction upheld.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firm’s web site http://www.portersimon.com.