The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) turned over a new leaf for the New Year. In response to a major federal Fourth Amendment lawsuit brought by the Institute for Justice (IJ) and Ohio taxidermist and deer processor Jeremy Bennett, ODNR issued a formal directive requiring its wildlife officers to obtain consent or a warrant before searching taxidermy and deer-processing shops. Now, Jeremy and others can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that ODNR officials cannot barge in whenever and however they please.

Ohio doesn’t put any substantive regulations on taxidermists or deer processors; instead, they just have to keep records of the animals they take in. But for years, state wildlife officers have used that minimal requirement to enter Jeremy’s shop and search around for hours on end, all without consent or a warrant. Jeremy finally had enough when, in 2021, he was criminally prosecuted for “refusing” a warrantless inspection after he politely asked an officer to come back when his shop was open.

With IJ’s help, Jeremy filed a lawsuit challenging the state regulation authorizing ODNR’s warrantless searches. The lawsuit argues that giving wildlife officers unchecked power to search harmless and largely unregulated businesses—like taxidermists and deer processors in Ohio—violates the Fourth Amendment. In response, ODNR’s new directive requires officers to obtain consent or a warrant when conducting future taxidermy and deer-processing inspections.

“This new directive gives me peace of mind, at least for now, that wildlife officers will respect my private property and the property of all my fellow taxidermists and deer processors,” said Jeremy. “I’m hopeful that ODNR will do the right thing and make this change permanent by eliminating the regulation authorizing these warrantless inspections.”

Until that happens, though, Jeremy’s lawsuit goes on.

“ODNR’s directive, while encouraging, is not a permanent solution,” said IJ Attorney Joshua Windham. “The regulation that allowed these officers to invade Jeremy’s shop without a warrant, and to prosecute him for standing on his Fourth Amendment rights, remains on the books. We won’t rest until that regulation is gone for good.”

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