Friday, August 12, 2016

Native American Cannot Claim Religious LiIberty Defense In Prosecution for Unlawful Hunting

In State of Washington v. McMeans, (WA App., Aug. 9, 2016), a Washington state appeals court upheld a trial court's refusal to give the jury an instruction on a free exercise defense asserted by a Yakima Tribe designated hunter in a prosecution of him for unlawful hunting.  Defendant Ricky Watlamet killed 4 elk to provide meat for the funeral of a tribal elder.  The elk harvesting took place outside of elk hunting season on land of co-defendant who sought help to get rid of elk damaging her property.  Under an 1855 treaty, the Yakima tribe is allowed to hunt on "open and unclaimed lands," but not private property.  The court said in part:
The defense presented substantial evidence that Mr. Watlamet had sincere religious beliefs and that he used the elk meat for religious purposes. However, he did not provide any evidence that the McMeans property was the only available location to obtain the elk meat. In fact, the record shows that Mr. Watlamet could lawfully hunt elk on State land, Federal land, tribal land, or any open and unclaimed land. The record also indicates that at the time in question there were numerous elk on the reservation as well as elk on state land adjacent to the McMeans property. Mr. Watlamet could have hunted these elk without running afoul of any regulation. He presented no evidence that either these particular elk or this particular place were necessary, preferable, or even convenient, nor has he presented any evidence that hunting the lawfully available elk was in any way burdensome.