BANGOR, Maine — A 17-year-old hunter from Hermon stood before District Court Judge Bruce Jordan on Thursday afternoon.
Appearing slightly nervous, Jason L. Teifert quietly answered “guilty” twice when the judge asked how he pleaded to violating the state’s hunting laws.
He admitted that he and his friend Austin Garber, 19, of Hermon fired at a deer in Levant at about 10 p.m. Nov. 18. Someone who heard the shots reported night hunters to the Maine Warden Service a short time later. The individual apparently recognized the truck the pair was in after it pulled into a Levant driveway for a short time.
Teifert also admitted Thursday that he had been given portions of a wild turkey that were not labeled with the name of the person who registered it and the year it was registered.
People charged with violating the state’s hunting and fishing laws are a small percentage of the criminal cases heard in courts around the state. Teifert’s was one of eight cases filed by Maine game wardens out of the more than 75 cases on Thursday’s docket.
“There is some uniqueness to them compared to most of the criminal cases we deal with,” said Brendan Trainor, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County. “But they are criminal offenses, just like the others we deal with.”
One difference is that people between the ages of 16 and 18 who hold hunting and fishing licenses face the same penalties adults do for violating the regulations. Teenagers younger than 18 who are charged with most crimes are treated differently from adults under the state’s criminal code.
Provisions in Title 12 of the Maine statutes govern conservation matters, including hunting and fishing regulations, Sgt. Alan Gillis of the Warden Service said Thursday.
Most violations are misdemeanors, but in some instances, the penalties for violating them can be more severe than those outlined in the statutes covering most criminal matters, he said.
For example, a person found guilty of drunken driving faces a mandatory 48-hour jail sentence, a mandatory fine of $500 and a 90-day suspension of his driver’s license.
If convicted of night hunting, defendants face a mandatory three-day jail sentence, a mandatory fine of $1,000 and a one-year mandatory suspension of their hunting licenses.
Juveniles such as Teifert are not subject to jail time. Adults convicted of either offense may qualify to participate in an alternative sentencing program that includes spending a weekend working at a local school performing community service.
In addition, game wardens may confiscate the guns or other weapons used to hunt at night and force the owners to forfeit them. Once a year, the warden service auctions off confiscated weapons, Gillis said.
“Coming to court doesn’t take up a lot of our time,” the game warden said, “but the investigation and the paperwork we must file with the district attorney’s office so charges can be filed can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several days to complete.”
The money from fines paid for violating hunting and fishing regulations goes back into the budget for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife rather than into the state’s General Fund as fines paid for criminal violations do.
In November 1992, voters passed a constitutional amendment ensuring that money from fees and fines stayed in the department.
Thursday afternoon, Judge Jordan dealt with defendants charged with violating the state’s hunting laws the same way he dealt with those charged with drunken driving, operating after suspension, shoplifting, drug possession and other crimes.
In Teifert’s case, the judge imposed the mandatory $1,000 fine and a one-year suspension of the teenager’s hunting license on the night hunting charge. Because he was a juvenile, a jail sentence was not imposed. In addition, Jordan imposed a $200 fine on the possession of a gift of a wild turkey but suspended it.
Teifert’s gun would have been confiscated by the investigating warden, Gillis said.
Teifert’s friend Garber pleaded guilty last month to night hunting, and the mandatory minimum jail time and fine were imposed, Trainor said. Garber was headed to basic training this month and needed to move up his court date, he said.