Right to Remain Silent: Do I Have to Talk to Wildlife Officers?
Beyond the lure of sea, sand and warm weather, thousands of sportspeople enjoy the many fishing and hunting opportunities that Florida has to offer. In 2021, there were nearly 190,000 licensed hunters in the Sunshine State. Not surprisingly, there are far more anglers: According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), “there are more than one million resident and non-resident licensed recreational saltwater anglers in Florida” annually. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing add an estimated $10.1 billion to the state’s coffers each year.
Why were you stopped by a fish and wildlife officer?
Rules and regulations surrounding hunting and fishing are complicated and often change from year to year. Most are meant to protect natural resources, wildlife habitats and, especially with its growing population in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the fragile South Florida environment. Among the most common reasons why those who hunt, trap, or fish may run afoul of the law include violations of the FWC’s regulatory and executive powers regarding marine life, wild animal life, and fresh water aquatic life, including:
- Taking more than the legal limit of a given species of fish or wildlife/exceeding the daily bag limit
- 0ut-of-season fishing or hunting
- Hunting, trapping or fishing Florida or federally designated endangered/imperiled species
- Disturbing sea turtle nests or taking sea turtles or their eggs
- Feeding alligators or crocodiles
- Hunting or fishing without a license (when one is required) or hunting or fishing with a revoked or suspended license
This is just a partial list of violations of Florida hunting and fishing laws. Penalties depend on what law was broken and can range from fines of $50 to more than $5,000. They may also include jail or prison sentences.
What authority do fish and wildlife officers have?
Fish and wildlife officers, or game wardens, are the law enforcement arm of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Accordingly, “FWC officers have full police powers and statewide jurisdiction. They patrol rural, wilderness and inshore and offshore areas and are often the sole law enforcement presence in many remote parts of the state. The Division of Law Enforcement has cooperative agreements with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Officers are also cross-deputized to enforce federal marine fisheries and wildlife laws, thus ensuring state and federal consistency in resource-protection efforts.”
While these officers have full police powers, they are also held to the same rules of standards of conduct as all law enforcement officers. And it also means that if you are stopped by a game warden, you have the same rights as you would have if you were stopped by any police officer.
If you are stopped or questioned by a fish and wildlife officer, do you have the right to remain silent
The short answer is “no,” you don’t have to talk to a game warden. There are usually only two times when you must speak to an officer and answer their questions or provide a document: If you are asked for your name, and if asked for your fishing or hunting license or permit. Should you offer more than that, remember that once you give up your right to remain silent that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” That’s as true when dealing with a fish and wildlife officer as if you were pulled over for a traffic violation.
Moreover, never assume that if you choose to talk that it won’t turn into unintentional self-incrimination. What may seem innocuous in the moment may turn out to implicate you in the long run.
An example of self-incrimination that most know about is being stopped for suspicion of drunk driving. If the officer asks the driver if he or she has been drinking and they answer “yes,” they have already made a self-incriminating statement. The same tactics can be used by fish and wildlife officers with the same result: self-incrimination and the likelihood that it will be used against you.
Do not let the officer intimidate you. Do not give into your own apprehension and fear.
Under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to remain silent and not answer questions that may provide self-incriminating information. It is in your best interest to invoke that right.
A question you can ask the game warden: “Am I free to go, officer?”
It seems like a straightforward question that should have a straightforward answer but that is not always the case. For instance, the officer may say “You’re not being accused of anything now, I’m just trying to find out what happened.” Again, you should not offer any information as officers know how to get you to say something you will later regret.
If you are free to go, simply go without comment, anger, or threats of retribution.
If you are being detained, answer no questions and tell the officer that you want to speak to an attorney. A lawyer with fish and wildlife criminal defense experience will understand the charges that may be leveled against you and is more likely to get you the best possible outcome.
In any interaction with game wardens, whether you were hunting or fishing in salt or fresh water, it is imperative to keep calm, be polite, but also know your rights. Invoke the Fifth Amendment and let your attorney handle everything else.
If you have been accused of or arrested for a Florida fish and game violation, get a knowledgeable defense attorney on your side.
Don’t risk revocation or suspension of your hunting or fishing privileges or the possibility of steep fines and jail time. Attorney Andrew Sando brings his background as a former Fish and Wildlife prosecutor to defending you against misdemeanor and felony charges. To learn more and to schedule a free case review, please call us at 561-296-1665 or toll-free at 833-SANDO-4U.