Criminal Procedure

Legal Loophole in Deer Custody Case

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Snowball is headed back home—for now. Because of a legal loophole, the disabled deer raised by a Molalla, Ore., family after they found her as a fawn along a road five years ago has been saved, as the family sees it, from being sent by the state to an elk farm.

She and her offspring, a 1-year-old male yearling named Bucky, were seized by authorities under a search warrant, because it is illegal to keep wildlife without a permit. But property seized under a warrant can’t simply be held indefinitely, and must be returned, under state law, unless it is being used as evidence in a criminal case, a Clackamas County Circuit Court judge held in a ruling yesterday. She ordered the state to return the pet doe “as soon as practicable,” reports the Portland Oregonian.

“I’m simply saying you can’t take something pursuant to a search warrant and then use that as a mechanism to hang on to it,” Judge Eve Miller told a prosecutor in the case during a hearing on Wednesday. “It’s just wrong.”

However, a Clackamas County prosecutor contended that the judge’s ruling was akin to returning stolen property seized under a search warrant to a thief. “I was surprised and somewhat at a loss, legally, to explain where the ruling came from,” said Christine Landers, a senior deputy district attorney. “We seize drugs off of people that we don’t prosecute, and the idea that we’d have to return the drugs to them is ridiculous.”

She would not say whether the office planned to prosecute the family for unlawful possession of wildlife.

Meanwhile, an Oregon Department of Justice spokeswoman says the Snowball saga will in all likelihood continue, because the state expects to appeal Miller’s decision.

As discussed in an earlier post, the family feels they will provide their pet deer with better care than she will receive at the elk farm. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife reportedly released Bucky back into the wild earlier this month.

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