- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A 2012 routine background check by state game wardens that led to an Arkansas man’s arrest and eventual conviction violated a man’s constitutional rights, an appeals court ruled this week.

In a 6-3 decision on Wednesday, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ordered that Jimmy Pickle’s case be retried in a circuit court.

Pickle was convicted on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, as well as drug charges, after Game and Fish Commission officers asked him for his hunting license while he was duck hunting.

He gave them his name, because his license was in his truck. The game wardens ran a warrant check on Pickle, who was carrying a shotgun, and discovered he was a convicted felon and arrested him.

The court sided with Pickle, finding the game wardens violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

But Chief Judge Robert Gladwin wrote in his dissent that state game wardens asking for a hunter’s license, even without suspicion, is constitutional and expected, considering that hunting activities are privileges and subject to state and federal regulation.

“The highly dangerous and regulated nature of hunting and fishing demands compliance checks, including questioning and checking of hunting and fishing equipment and licenses, even though similar actions might not be reasonable outside (that context),” Gladwin wrote.

Game and Fish Commission Director Mike Knoedl told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the court’s ruling will hurt enforcement of state laws and regulations by barring his agency’s practice of “field checks.”

“This is huge,” Knoedl said. “What they’re saying is: We need a written plan before we can actually check someone, or see that person commit a violation, before we even approach them. That renders our wildlife officers ineffective.”

He said he will ask the attorney general’s office to petition the Supreme Court for an appeal.

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