Game Law Violations


Reno Man Convicted of Deer Poaching
After Challenging DFG's DNA Technology

Due in great part to evidence provided by deer DNA blood samples, a Reno man has been convicted in Mono County Superior Court for deer poaching after he had submitted a motion to the court to suppress that DNA evidence, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) announced.

The 66-year-old man was convicted on counts of illegally possessing a mule deer doe and buck. Officials from DFG's Wildlife Forensics Laboratory (WFL), CalTrans, the California Highway Patrol, and the Alpine County Sheriffs Office all assisted in the groundbreaking case, which was prosecuted by Mono County Deputy District Attorney Todd Graham. A sentencing hearing in Mono County Superior Court is scheduled in early August.

"This case, which was a very successful team effort, will set a precedent for future case evidence involving DNA for our wardens investigating wildlife crimes," said Deputy Chief Fred Cole, who noted that the Mono County Superior Court ruling is the first deer DNA evidence challenge at the appellate court level in the country.

On the evening of January 10, 2001, about three months after deer hunting season had closed in the area, a CalTrans employee reported seeing a dead deer in the back of a man's truck on remote Monitor Pass (Highway 89). DFG warden Ernie Acosta was contacted and by the time he arrived on the scene, Alpine County deputy sheriff Jeff Bennett had also heard the call and responded. When they arrived, the man had driven away, but two dead deer were found laying on a tarp near the road. He was later tracked down, and Acosta confiscated a scoped rifle from his truck, and also noticed there was blood in the bed of the pickup.

The blood and tissue samples from the deer were sent to the DFG's Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Rancho Cordova. DNA tests were conducted by Jim Banks and Ken Levine, and the blood was matched as coming from one of the deer found on the tarp. The results were confirmed by Dr. Kenneth Jones of Genetic Identification Services and biostatistician Dr. Robert Wayne from UCLA.

Because there is no California case law which addresses deer genetic DNA results as evidence, the man attempted to have the deer blood evidence thrown out. The court, however, because the WFL was recognized as having a tested, procedural, genetic DNA system in place, ruled against the motion to suppress, allowing the deer blood samples to be used.

"In the future, if our DNA evidence is challenged, we can point to this case," Cole said. "The ability to use DNA in these types of cases is a very beneficial law enforcement tool."

NOTE: In 1998, DFG announced that it has the ability to analyze physical evidence taken from a deer using sophisticated DNA technology. DFG's Wildlife Forensics Laboratory has been at the forefront of research into wildlife DNA technology since the mid-1970s. Led by wildlife forensics specialists Levine and Banks, DFG was the first agency in the country with the capability of prosecuting criminal deer wildlife cases using this specific procedure which identifies the animals through their component parts, such as meat, fur, or a few drops of blood.

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