Searching A Lobster Poacher OK

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

It turns out state Fish & Game wardens don’t actually have to see whether a lobster caught out of season went into the fisherman’s bag to stop and search the angler’s car for the contraband. The California Supreme Court unanimously rejected a claim of violation of the fisherman’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search.

In this case, a warden spotted Bouhn Maikhio fishing with a handline off a San Diego pier in 2007.  It was an area that the warden knew was used for catching spiny lobsters as well as fish.  The warden didn’t see whether a fish or a lobster went into Maikhio’s bag so he stopped Maikhio to search the bag inside his car as he drove out of the area.

 Maikhio denied he had caught anything at the pier, but a search of the car turned up the illegal lobster in the bag.  Charges were dismissed when the appeals court held it was an illegal search, but  state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauy reinstated the case.

The law allows inspection of “boats, markets and stores” for animals or fish caught without hunting or fishing licenses, but the law does not list cars.  The high court said that while the law does not explicitly provide for the stop, it implicitly authorizes a game warden to demand that anyone who has been recently fishing or hunting display to their catch to the warden.

In this case the warden took the lobster back to the ocean after citing Maikhio.

 Case:  People v. Maikhio, S180289

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