State Supreme Court reverses hunting convictions
Published 12:53 am Saturday, November 7, 2015
By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
In what has been hailed as a wonderful decision for all hunters, outdoorsmen and women, the Supreme Court of Alabama recently reversed the convictions of three Montgomery men in a 2013 Lowndes County illegal night hunting case.
The court reversed the convictions of Walker Lee Cox, Ryan Jake Jernigan and William Finlayson, who had been granted youthful offender status.
The case began on Jan. 3, 2013, according to court documents when the three had loaded groceries into a truck to take to a hunting cabin in Lowndes County and one brought his new AR-15 rifle along and placed it in the backseat of the truck.
The truck pulled to a stop on Brown Hill Road.
Russell Morrow, a retired conservation and enforcement officer for the state and reserve deputy for Lowndes County testified the area is frequented by wildlife, including deer and that he heard two high powered rounds go off from the vehicle.
Opelika attorney Ben Hand, who represented the three, called the 5-4 decision reversing their conviction “Wonderful for all of our hunters and our outdoorsmen and women.” And, he said, “I think it an excellent protection for all of our law abiding citizens.”
Hand said in a footnote of the Supreme Court’s decision, “The Supreme Court said it looks like the state wants you believe that anybody who has a gun in their car with the headlights on on a public road at night may be hunting at night.”
He said, “And if you think about that that’s kind of scary for every hunter out there whose riding home and has got a gun and got the headlights on and all of sudden he’s in jail or convicted of something he didn’t do.”
Hand said the Supreme Court overturned the Rogers case that was previous precedent and then set in more guidelines for charges for attempting to do something.
Chief Justice Roy S. Moore wrote the decision, which was released Friday, Oct. 30.
Cox, Jernigan and Finlayson had been convicted in the Lowndes Circuit Court of hunting after dark, hunting from a public road and hunting with the aid of an automobile.
They were ordered to pay $4,000 in fines plus court costs, had their hunting privileges revoked for three years, and sentenced to six months in the Lowndes County jail for the night-hunting conviction, 30 days for the hunting-with-the-aid-of-an-automobile conviction, and 30 days for the hunting-from-a-public-road conviction, the sentences to be served concurrently.
The circuit court suspended the three’s jail sentences and placed them on unsupervised probation for two years.
At the close of the state’s evidence, the three moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that the state failed to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The circuit court denied their motion. And at the close of all the evidence, the three again moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the court denied.
The three appealed their convictions and the denial of their post-judgment motion to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
The court of criminal appeals unanimously affirmed the judgement of the circuit court and denied the petitioners application for a rehearing.
The three then petitioned Supreme Court for a writ of Certiorari, which granted the petition to consider the argument that the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirming their convictions conflicts with Alabama precedent requiring
the state to prove every element of an offense and that the accused acted with a culpable mental state.
According to the documents, the state invoked Rogers (Rogers v State, 491 So.2d987 (Ala. Crim. App. 1985) as the basis of all the hunting charges against the three.
Moore wrote, “Because we reject Rogers today, and because the state has failed to present substantial evidence that the petitioners are guilty of the charged hunting offenses, all of the petitioners’ convictions must be vacated.”
The Supreme Court further pointed out that the state did not try the case
on the theory that each of the petitioners aided and abetted one another in the commission of the charged hunting offenses. And Moore wrote, “That theory, therefore, is no longer available to the state, because ‘the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial when a conviction is reversed solely on the basis of an insufficiency of the evidence.’
“We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand for that court to instruct the circuit court to vacate the petitioners’ convictions and sentences and to enter a judgment acquitting the petitioners of all charges.”
Justice Glenn Murdock wrote in concurring with the result,
“I agree that this Court should not follow Rogers. I concur in the result
reached by the main opinion in this case”.
In dissenting, Justice Lyn Stuart wrote, “Because an analysis of the evidence in the record supports the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals that the trial court properly concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence of each element of the charged offenses to sustain the petitioners’ convictions, I respectfully dissent from the decision to reverse the judgment of the Court of
Criminal Appeals and to order that the petitioners’ convictions be vacated.”
In the final tally, Justices Tom Parker and Alisa Kelli Wise concurred, Glenn Murdock and Tommy Bryan concurred in the result. And Lyn Stuart, Michael F. Bolin, Greg Shaw, and James Allen Main dissented.