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Judge rejects seizure of walleyes without warrant

  • Associated Press
  • March 21, 2014 - 12:20 PM

AITKIN, Minn. — Prosecutors can't use 52 walleyes seized in a warrantless search as evidence against a couple who live on Mille Lacs Lake, a judge ruled.

Aitkin County District Judge John Solien granted a defense motion to suppress the evidence, the Brainerd Dispatch reported Friday (http://bit.ly/OEYzWk ).

According to court documents, Conservation Officer Chris Tetrault observed Richard and Linda Southworth, of Isle, fishing with an extra line in July. He then asked if he could look inside their home to see if they had more fish in the freezer.

Richard Southworth replied: "I wish you wouldn't." The conversation continued, the documents said, with the officer asking again about searching the freezer and the defendant said "I guess I can't stop you, can I?"

Tetrault responded: "Well, I'd, you know, I'd like if we could just go look together and then we will be a, we'll figure what we're going to do from there, OK?"

The defendant testified that he said "OK" at some point.

The Southworths were charged with possessing a gross over-limit of walleyes. However, the judge ruled that Richard Southworth did not voluntarily consent to the search, but instead merely submitted to the officer's authority.

Defense attorney Bill Peterson said the decision is important for protecting the privacy of Minnesota sportsmen. He said he will seek the return of the Southworths' fishing board and trailer, which were confiscated.

The Department of Natural Resources had highlighted the seizure and one other bust of a Mille Lacs area resident in a news release in August as examples of how it's not just outsiders who commit fishing violations on area lakes. It quoted Tetrault as saying he had seized 120 illegally taken fish in July alone.

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