Appeals court upholds dismissal against man facing 13 charges in MN deer poaching case

ST. PAUL-The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed the Lac Qui Parle County District Court's ruling to dismiss 13 charges against a Dawson man in a GPS deer poaching case.The decision by a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer to...
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officers seized 37 guns and 28 sets of deer antlers from the residence of Joshua Liebl in Dawson, Minn. In a decision announced Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, the state's Court of Appeals affirmed the Lac Qui Parle County District Court’s ruling to dismiss 13 charges in a GPS deer poaching case. Submitted photo

ST. PAUL-The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed the Lac Qui Parle County District Court's ruling to dismiss 13 charges against a Dawson man in a GPS deer poaching case.

The decision by a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer to place a warrantless GPS tracking device under the vehicle of Joshua Liebl had been an "unreasonable search" under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Judge John Smith wrote in a court order filed Monday, Oct. 17.

The tracking device was placed on Liebel's pickup on the night of Sept. 24, 2014. Conservation officers had obtained a tracking order to place the device, not a search warrant.

Its use led conservation officers to arrest Liebl, 38, on the night of Oct. 21, 2014, while he was allegedly transporting a buck deer killed with a bullet. It was prior to the firearm season and in an area where only shotgun slugs would be legal.

The 13 counts filed against Liebl included charges of illegal transport, hunting out of season, hunting with a revoked or suspended license, using artificial lights, taking big game in a closed season, not tagging and failing to register big game.

At the time of Liebl's arrest, officers seized the eight-point buck from his pickup truck and a .243-caliber rifle and 12-gauge shotgun, as well as ammunition for both.

They executed a search warrant at his home where they seized a 74-pound piebald buck from his freezer and shoulder mounts and antlers from 28 deer, many of them trophy size.

In April, District Judge Thomas Van Hon dismissed all the charges, ruling that officers needed a search warrant when they secretly placed the device. He had stated that the officers likely would have had probable cause to obtain a search warrant, but had not requested one, and thus, the issue of probable cause was not determined.

Lac Qui Parle County Attorney Richard Stulz appealed Van Hon's ruling in late April, asking the Court of Appeals to find that Van Hon erred in the decision, "when the information submitted to the court prior to issuing the order was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause.''

In Monday's order from the Court of Appeals, Smith wrote that the tracking order had not been a legal equivalent to a search warrant.

"Because the tracking order was not based on a probable-cause finding by the issuing court, the tracking order was not a valid substitute for a search warrant," Smith wrote.