And I won. For the most part. Thanks to all who wrote and commented with advice. Here’s what happened.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I had a little misunderstanding with the game wardens while home for Christmas. The (optional) court date they gave me was January 30th, but I fly back to Scotland on the 6th.
I was planning on just getting an attorney and letting him deal with it, but I also wanted to be able to tell my story. So, my son and I first went to the court clerk, where the game warden had just brought the tickets in. She was very friendly, and asked me what happened. I told her, and she was appalled. She told me that she and her husband had a similar run-in when they were checking on some of their cows, and she knew how over-zealous some of those game wardens can be. She finished filing the charges, and sent me over to the district judge’s office.
I talked to the judge’s secretary. She also commented about this new crop of game wardens, and said that they had been having issues with some of the citations they had written. She made a comment about them needed to exercise a bit of common sense when dealing with people. She stuck her head in, asked if the judge could talk to me, and he said that he could.
The ticket had my Montana address on it, and at first he didn’t realize I was from the area. He said “Son, you had a gun and a spotlight in a vehicle. Here in southeastern Oklahoma, that’s a problem. What happened?” I told him who I was, and where the incident happened. (He has property not far from there.) I could see his demeanor change as I told my story. He said “Wait a second. You were on your own property?” I told him we were. He said “And they came all the way down to the house?” (The house is well off the road). He wasn’t happy. He then asked about Scotland, and if another court date would work. I told him that we were leaving this weekend. He said “Let me go and talk to the District Attorney.”
So, he went upstairs to the DA’s office for about 10 minutes. My son and I sat out in the hall, and I told him that this was a good sign. So far, nobody had been sympathetic to the game wardens’ actions. After a bit, the judge came out and said the DA wanted to see me. I went in and talked to him about my options. Again, he was sympathetic. He said “Look, I know that farmers around here need to get out and check on fences, cows, etc. They are almost always going to have a gun in their possession. So what they cited you for could be cited on private property all the time. In fact, I could have been cited for this before.” I was thinking “This is starting to sound pretty good.” He then said “But, the game wardens are going to want to contest this in court. I would rather not waste the court’s time on this, and I know that you aren’t going to be here after this week.”
He then handed me a copy of the game warden’s report, and asked if it looked like the facts were correct. I read it over, and other than one statement, it was written up correctly. That one statement was “Mr. Rapier said that they weren’t deer hunting, but were trying to spot raccoons.” I don’t know whether he meant to say that I actually said that we weren’t deer hunting (the word deer was never mentioned by me or the game warder) or whether he was trying to convey that information in his report. But I wanted to clarify that I was never questioned about whether I was deer hunting.
The mystery of how they arrived so quickly was also solved. They said we were spotted by an airplane flying directly overhead (looking for “illegal hunting activity”), and that it was called in at 20:48. They were very close by, and when it was called in they were pulling down the driveway 10 minutes later.
The DA said “Look, I don’t want to prosecute this. But I would like to make some kind of deal that satisfies everyone.” He turned to his computer and did some research. He said “How does this sound. I can give you a pair of options. First, we can try to work out a court date, get the game wardens in here, and contest the charges in court.” He told me that that face value of all of the 3 fines was actually about $800 EACH. He said “That’s one option. But I would rather do this. I will dismiss the first two charges – Hunting from a motor vehicle and spotlighting in exchange for a no contest plea and the minimum fine for hunting without a license. I will order return of the gun and light.”
We discussed this for a bit. When the game wardens showed up, I had a predator call in my pocket. When we had been out target practicing earlier, we had planned on calling up some coyotes. They had been making a lot of noise the past few nights. While we never used the call, we were walking around in the woods with a gun and would have shot a coyote had we seen one. That means that technically, we were hunting earlier in the day for coyotes (again, on private property). However, we weren’t hunting when the game wardens cited me.
I asked about the seriousness of the charge. In Oklahoma, here is the classification of the charge:
“Non-serious offenses” offenses which are not recorded in criminal history records, adapted from the list of FBI non-serious offenses.
It is essentially equivalent to a speeding ticket. So my options were to take this deal, or hire a lawyer and send him in to tell my side of the story without me being there (risky, in my opinion). So, I took the deal, paid a $200 fine plus $100 in court costs, and was done with it.
One more interesting thing happened when I was getting my Dad’s gun and light back. They let me look around the evidence locker. They had a bunch of automatic weapons that they had confiscated from a meth lab. There must have been a total of about 100 guns in there. Pretty cool. And once again, I got a sympathetic view from the deputy who released my gun. He apologized over the whole thing.
All in all, not a terrible way to end the episode. It was still a bad deal, but it could have turned out a lot worse.