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State House Passes Bill to Protect Constitutional Rights of Outdoorsmen, Wins Praise from ACLU of PA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2009

HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today unanimously passed legislation to conform the search-and-seizure powers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission with the federal and state constitutions, and the bill’s passage won praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

“People do not give up their constitutional rights simply because they hunt and fish,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of PA. “Outdoorsmen have a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.”

As written in current law, enforcement officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission can conduct stops and searches “at any time.” House Bill 181, introduced by Representative Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster County), would require a finding of reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle and a finding of probable cause to conduct a search.

“Current law essentially assumes that hunters are criminals and allows the game commission to conduct stops and searches under that assumption,” Hoover said. “HB 181 fixes a major problem with state law and does it through legislation, not through a lawsuit.”

The bill brings game commission officers’ powers to stop and search in line with current law governing the powers of police officers. Last year the state Supreme Court ruled that police only need reasonable suspicion, which is a lower standard than probable cause, to stop a vehicle. The ACLU of PA disagreed with that ruling, but Hoover noted that HB 181 is an improvement on current law.

“The law regarding stops by police officers could be stronger and should require probable cause, as required by both the state and federal constitutions,” Hoover said. “But HB 181 stops game commission officers from stopping and searching at any place, at any time, and implements a standard that requires officers to have some belief that a person has committed a crime.”

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.