DNR, angler dispute searches in high court

by Nathan Hall

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case that could affect the application of the Fourth Amendment as well as the state’s environmental well-being.

Minnesota anglers and attorneys must balance protecting the state’s natural resources against constitutional protections prohibiting unlawful searches and seizures.

Justices are currently considering the case of John Colosimo, a Virginia, Minn., lawyer who refused to let a game warden inspect a boat he was transporting between two lakes in northern Minnesota two years ago.

Colosimo was fined, but the Court of Appeals overturned his conviction last summer.

Department of Natural Resources lawyer Jeff Vlatkovich argued conservation enforcers would have their hands tied if they had to prove probable cause before inspecting a boat.

According to DNR figures for the past year, Minnesota hosted an estimated 2.1 million fishing enthusiasts and 600,000 hunters. Meanwhile, the DNR has only 200 officers.

Colosimo, who represented himself, argued that allowing officers to act without proof of wrongdoing infringes upon his constitutional right to personal privacy.

The case is further complicated by the fact that Colosimo and his four fishing companions were not still fishing, or even in the water, when the officer approached and asked if they had been fishing.

In August, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled conservation officers need permission or a warrant before entering an ice-fishing house to check for code violations.

As media attention around the Colosimo case has increased, the DNR has reported increasing numbers of anglers outright refusing routine spot-checks of their boats.

Environmentalists fear Minnesota’s lakes will become a haven for poachers if Colosimo prevails.

Colosimo got his undergraduate degree from Bemidji State University in 1964 and graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 1972. He currently resides in Eveleth, Minn.

The state Supreme Court generally issues a decision within three to five months after oral arguments have been completed.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nathan Hall covers transportation and the environment and welcomes comments at [email protected]