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Royalton man's conviction stands in trapping case

A 36-year-old Royalton man who was sentenced in December of 2013 with a petty misdemeanor of aiding and assisting in setting a wildlife trap without identification in Morrison County took his case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where a judge ...

A 36-year-old Royalton man who was sentenced in December of 2013 with a petty misdemeanor of aiding and assisting in setting a wildlife trap without identification in Morrison County took his case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where a judge Monday affirmed the decision made by the district court.

Even though the petty misdemeanor resulted in a $135 fine, Royce Ryan Teague appealed his conviction of aiding and assisting in setting a wildlife trap without identification. He argued that such a charge is not permissible under state law, in that he should have received a jury trial and that the district court erred by amending the original charge to include aiding and assisting. Teague argued that a petty misdemeanor is not a crime.

Court proceedings started after Teague was given a citation for setting or placing a trap without proper identification, a petty misdemeanor. Teague contested the citation and a bench trial was held.

According to the unpublished opinion from the Court of Appeals:

• Joyce Kuske, a local game warden, testified that she received a tip about a man traveling in a camouflage vehicle checking roadside traps that did not appear to have the proper identification. She followed up on the call and found two traps without identification in the described location.

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• Kuske testified that she suspected traps belonged to Teague because of the description of the camouflage vehicle. Teague was known to be a trapper in the area. Kuske photographed the traps and removed them. She also viewed Teague's Facebook page and discovered a picture of him with one of the traps in the same location. The photo showed a raccoon in the trap with the caption: "Caught and released this morning ... can't eat everything. Lots of laughs. Just wait till trapping season, though, other than skunk."

• Kuske spoke with Teague on the phone and told him that she had his traps. He denied that he was missing any traps but agreed to meet with her at a gas station. Kuske testified that when she asked Teague why he would not admit that they were his traps, he replied, "I can't admit that these are my traps because I will get revoked if I do."

• Kuske admitted that she knew he had "tended" the traps, but she did not know who initially set them.

• Teague's attorney moved for a directed verdict, arguing the state had not proved that Teague actually set the traps, a requirement under state statute. The district court denied the motion.

• Teague's girlfriend testified that the traps belonged to her and that she set the traps to help Teague, who was making a skunk-trapping video and that he checked the traps while she was at work. The woman said she did not know the traps required identification. The woman also testified that she was with Teague when they found the raccoon and that she had taken the Facebook photo.

• Teague testified that he knew his girlfriend had set the traps in early September of 2013 and corroborated her testimony about the raccoon.

• The district court concluded that the statute only addresses "setting or placing a trap" without identification and therefore placed no significance on the fact that Teague was seen checking the traps. The district court concluded that the day the Facebook photo was taken, he must have assisted his girlfriend in resetting the trap after they released the raccoon, and therefore convicted him of "aiding and abetting ... and assisting each other" in setting a trap without identification.

The state appeals court ruled that Teague was correct that he could not be convicted of aiding and abetting, a petty misdemeanor. However, the state court agrees that despite the Morrison County District Court's wording, he was properly convicted of aiding and assisting a violation of the game and fish laws. The state court ruled that Teague's conduct falls under the state statute of "taking," which includes setting a trap and that the district court did not err by convicting him on the charge.

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The state court also ruled that Teague's argument that the district court erred by failing to give him a jury trial also is without merit because the punishment for a petty misdemeanor only includes "a fine of not more than $300."

The state court also ruled in the district court's favor in that it has the right to amend a charge at any time before the verdict or finding if no additional or different offense is charged and if the defendant's substantial rights are not prejudiced.

Todd Chantry, Morrison County assistant attorney who handled the case, said he is pleased with the appellate court's decision. Chantry said it's not too often where the courts see a petty misdemeanor conviction appealed, but it does happen. Chantry said it happened in Teague's case because he is a well-known trapper in the area who makes a living at it.

"It's his livelihood and he had a lot to lose here," said Chantry. "This is how he makes his living and the DNR knows him. ... It's just one of those things."

Chantry said if a person has so many DNR violations in a certain time period, they can lose their license. Chantry said Teague can petition his case to the supreme court if he so chooses.

Chantry said Teague's girlfriend was cited for the trapping incident and she paid the fine. Teague was sentenced in 2013 in Crow Wing District Court for taking a furbearer by an illegal method, a misdemeanor.

Keri Phillips, attorney with Rinke Noonan Attorney at Law in St. Cloud who represented Teague who not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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