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United States v. Hopkins

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

May 21, 2018





         Before the Court is a magistrate appeal, appealing Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes' (“Judge Hayes”) decision in finding Defendant, Jonathan Hopkins (“Hopkins”) guilty of violating Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 20.21 (hereinafter “50 C.F.R. § 20.21”), which prohibits hunting waterfowl on a baited field. After careful consideration of all parties' submissions, and the law applicable before the Court, Judge Hayes' decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2016, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Agent James Hagan (“Agent Hagan”) received a complaint from an informant known to him. The complainant reported that an individual had manipulated a rice crop with the intent to duck hunt. The complainant offered to drive Agent Hagan to the location. Agent Hagan met with the complainant and was taken to the property adjacent to the suspected baited or manipulated site.

         On November 3, 2016, Agent Hagan and Agent Hattaway returned to the property that the complainant reported had been manipulated. They walked the property and took photographs of the manipulated crops. Agent Hagan discovered that the field was roughly 60 to 80 acres and contained rice that had matured. In addition, approximately three to four acres of matured rice had been manipulated in a 360 degree circle around a duck blind on the field. While Agents Hagan and Hattaway were in the field, someone turned on a water pump and began flooding the field.

         On November 9, 2016, Agents Hagan and Hattaway returned to the field where they again found mature rice stalks that had been manipulated in some manner solely in the area immediately around the duck blind. The Agents took photographs of the flooded field and areas around the duck blind from both outside and inside the blind. They also obtained a sample of the rice.

         On November 19, 2016, opening day of duck season, agents, including Agents Hagan and Hattaway, made their fourth trip to the manipulated field. Hopkins' hunting party arrived at approximately 6 a.m to the field. The Agents made contact with the hunters in the blind at approximately 7:20 a.m. They conducted a compliance check and provided Hopkins with his rights per Miranda prior to informing him the field was considered baited. While Agent Hagan was preparing his equipment, Hopkins told Agent Hattaway that he was an agriculture pilot and had flown brown millet onto the field in August. He continued by stating that once the millet matured, he disked it under rather than harvesting it. Hopkins then stated that he had called Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Agent Bear Fletcher (“Agent Fletcher”) because he had been “messing with the rice” and wanted to make sure what he was doing was legal.

         Hopkins then provided Agents Hagan and Hattaway with a handwritten statement in which he admits he aerially applied millet to the duck hole, then disked it in September or October. Hopkins further wrote that the blind where he was found hunting had been disked around in September, approximately one month after he stated he aerially applied the brown millet.

         Agents Hagan and Hattaway then issued Hopkins with a citation for violating 50 C.F.R. § 20.21. After issuing the citation, the Agents completed their investigation by taking photographs of the area from both inside and outside of the blind.

         This matter came before Judge Hayes for bench trial on December 5, 2017. After considering testimony from two witnesses, Agent Hagan and Hopkins, and several pages of exhibits, Judge Hayes found that Hopkins was guilty of 50 C.F.R. § 20.21 and also found his testimony unreliable. In finding Hopkins' testimony unreliable, Judge Hayes' reasoned that his story changed on the use of the millet that was not included in his written statement. Hopkins was sentenced to one year of probation. As a condition of probation, Hopkins is not permitted to hunt. Hopkins was also ordered to pay a fine of $2, 000.00.

         Hopkins appeals Judge Hayes' decision to this Court. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3402 and Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g) because there has been a final verdict of conviction by the United States Magistrate Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division.

         On appeal, Hopkins argues that the Government did not offer sufficient evidence to meet its burden of proof as it relates to certain exceptions of hunting waterfowl over baited land. Specifically, Hopkins' contends that Judge Hayes erred in denying his Motion for Acquittal following the Government's case in chief and erred in finding Hopkins guilty of 50 C.F.R. § 20.21.

         II. ...

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