Virginia Wildlife Officers Sneak Onto Private Property – Steal Camera

Virginia homeowner Josh Highlander is suing state game wardens, alleging they trespassed on his 30-acre property and stole his trail camera without a warrant.

“It’s almost like we’ve got a situation where they think their power’s limitless,” Josh Highlander said. “And I just don’t feel like that’s right.”

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Highlander’s property is in New Kent County, Virginia, and is posted with no trespassing signs. On April 8, the first day of turkey hunting season, his wife and 6-year-old son were playing basketball when the ball rolled toward the edge of the woods. When they went to retrieve it, they saw a figure dressed in full camouflage walking among the trees. His wife rushed their son inside and told Highlander.

“My wife has got, like, this panic in her eyes,” he said.


Virginia Wildlife Officers Steal Game Camera

But when Josh went outside to search the property, thinking it may have been a hunter, he couldn’t find anyone. He later realized a trail camera about 150 yards from his house was missing.

When Highlander reported it stolen, the sheriff’s office told him the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) took the camera and they would contact Highlander, said attorney Joseph Gay with the nonprofit Institute for Justice.

Highlander said he had not received any information from DWR.

Highlander believes DWR may be searching his trail camera for evidence of hunting violations. On April 8, Highlander’s brother was cited for “hunting over bait” in a different county. Agents said they found seeds in the field where he was hunting turkey and determined they were bait, but lawyers said Highlander’s brother is contesting the ticket.

“The basic principle here is that if we as ordinary people can’t sneak onto somebody’s land and steal their camera, then government agents shouldn’t be able to do that either,” Gay said. “Not without a warrant.”

Highlander’s lawsuit against DWR, filed this month, challenges a nearly 100-year-old Supreme Court ruling that Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches and seizures do not apply to open fields, even if they are surrounded by fences or no trespassing signs (Hester v. United States.)

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Some states have extended Fourth Amendment protections to privately owned land beyond the curtilage of a home, but Virginia isn’t one of them.

“Part of what this case wants to do is to establish the principle that no trespassing signs should apply to government agents, too,” Gay said.

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