Here’s What You Need to Know About Game and Fish Violations in New Mexico
New Mexico is known for its vast, open spaces and diversity of wildlife, making it a great place for hunters. However, state law imposes strict laws and regulations when it comes to hunting and fishing. Those who run afoul of the state’s hunting laws can find themselves charged with game and fish violations. While you may assume that these charges will result in nothing more than a slap on the wrist, that is not the case. Game and fish violations in New Mexico can carry significant criminal consequences, including the possibility of jail time.
What Are the New Mexico Game and Fish Regulations?
New Mexico lawmakers created a strict set of laws governing hunting, fishing, and trapping. While the laws are quite complex, most offenses fall into the following categories:
- Hunting or attempting to hunt an animal during a prohibited time;
- Hunting or attempting to hunt a protected animal;
- Hunting big game without a valid hunting license;
- Exceeding the number of permitted game;
- Using another’s hunting license;
- Selling or offering to sell big game; and
- Wasting big game after a kill.
Depending on the nature of the violation and whether you have a prior game and fish violation, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges for a New Mexico hunting offense. These offenses carry significant fines and even the possibility of mandatory jail time.
Punishments for Game & Fish Violations in New Mexico
The seriousness of a game and fish violation depends in part on the type of offense. While all first-time offenses are misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail, the fine associated with a violation varies between $100 and $2,000.
For those who have a prior conviction for a fish and game violation, the crime is still considered a misdemeanor. However, the fines increase substantially. For example, the fine for hunting or killing a jaguar goes up from $2,000 for a first offense to $4,000 for a second offense. If you have two prior convictions for a game and fish violation, the fines again increase dramatically, reaching as high as $6,000 per offense. However, third-time offenders also face a mandatory 90 days in jail.
Most fish and game violations are misdemeanors. However, under New Mexico Statutes § 17-2-8, a violation is a felony offense if you kill a bighorn sheep, ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep, elk, deer, or pronghorn antelope outside of legal hunting season and “waste” the animal. In this context, waste refers to removing only part of the animal, such as the head, horns or antlers. A violation under this section is a felony of the fourth degree, punishable by up to 18 months in jail.
Defenses to Game and Fish Violations
When it comes to any criminal law, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Game and fish violations are no different. Thus, even an innocent violation can result in criminal liability. However, there are defenses that apply in certain situations. For example, it is not a violation to kill an animal on your own property if the animal is posing a danger to a person or property, including crops. However, this defense requires you to report the killing to the Department of Game and Fish within 24 hours.
Another defense to fish and game violations pertains to Native Americans who are engaging in protected religious activities.
Operation Game Thief Incentivizes Others to Turn You In
Operation Game Thief is a program created by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to reduce the number of game and fish violations in the state. The program provides monetary rewards for people who turn in what the Department refers to as “poachers,” or those who kill protected animals. The rewards range from $250 to $750 and are payable upon the arrest of the alleged hunter.
While the Department of Game and Fish may have had good intentions when creating Operation Game Thief, it also has its problems. For example, anyone can anonymously report another person for an alleged violation. As soon as game and fish officers receive a report, they begin an investigation into the alleged offense. Like any reward-based reporting program, Operation Game Thief can result in reports that, while unfounded, lead to investigations that intrude into another’s liberty. These investigations may also lead to the discovery of other potential offenses, such as the illegal possession or carrying of a weapon.
The Authority of Conservation Officers
Conservation officers are state employees charged with enforcing the state’s game and fish laws. In this way, a conservation officer is like a police officer. Thus, conservation officers have the power to conduct searches, seizures of property, and arrests. For example, if a conservation officer suspects you violated state game and fish laws, they can take your rifle or bow, seize any game, search your camp, and arrest you. However, because conservation officers are considered law enforcement in this context, they must have legal justification for their actions. If a conservation officer acts on a hunch, any evidence recovered from a search or seizure may not be admissible at trial.
Are You Facing a New Mexico Fish and Game Violation?
If the government charged you with a game and fish violation, it is important that you take the necessary steps to protect yourself. These crimes can have a major impact on your life and may result in the loss of hunting privileges, not to mention the loss of your freedom. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, our dedicated criminal charges defense lawyers have extensive experience defending clients charged with game and fish violations. We can help ensure that the government does not rely on inadmissible evidence to convict you and work to mitigate any exposure you may face as a result of a hunting mishap. To learn more and to schedule a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 505-200-2982. You can also reach our attorneys through our online contact form.