Livestock inspection stop ruled a warrantless stop
for Tri-State Livestock News
After being pulled over on June 27, 2019, for a livestock inspection, Rex Rammel, a Rock Springs, Wyo., veterinarian, is now challenging the legality of county to county brand inspections, what he calls an antiquated law that violates Fourth Amendment rights.
Since 1931, Wyoming has required a brand inspection on any cattle, sheep, horses, mules or asses when animals change ownership, move across county lines within Wyoming or move across state lines out of Wyoming. According to Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a), any inspector, game warden or peace officer has the authority to stop, inspect and search a livestock carrier, with or without a warrant, to examine the owner’s permit and the livestock inside. With the approval of the Wyoming Livestock Board, peace officers across the state may stop individuals with livestock trailers to inspect the livestock, then cite them if they are not carrying brand inspections. Each citation is a $750 fine.
Rammel, whose pickup truck and trailer were licensed in Sweetwater County, was pulled over in Sublette County by Deputy Huffman. At the time, Rammel, who was hauling four horses and a foal to a pasture in Sublette County, said he challenged the deputy, saying it was not legal for him to be stopped just because his license plates were from a neighboring county. According to Rammel, the deputy replied he was doing as he was told, per the statute. Rammel then plead guilty during his arraignment, but challenged the stop in circuit court, saying that the June 27 stop was a violation of his state and U.S. Constitutional rights as a warrantless search and seizure and filed a motion on Oct. 15 to suppress the deputy’s affidavit from June 27, which was the prosecution’s only evidence.
On Dec. 10, Magistrate Clayton Kainer ruled that, because pertinent constitutional case law says that a warrantless stop must relate to commercial property in a closely regulated industry whose operation poses a clear and significant risk to public warfare, and in the deputy’s report there was no reasonable suspicion or probable cause, the state then “failed to meet the burden imposed upon it by the U.S. Constitution to demonstrate that the warrantless seizure of Rammel’s vehicle was not unreasonable. Accordingly, any evidence obtained after Deputy Huffman ‘activated’ his lights was obtained illegally and shall not be admissible at trail.”
The trial was scheduled for Jan. 14, but has since been vacated on lack of evidence.
Rammel has long been an advocate against the county to county brand law, speaking out against it during his campaign for governor in 2018, but the Dec. 10 ruling now brings to question this: is the 1931 law requiring brand inspections to move across county lines antiquated, or is Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a) allowing any law enforcement officer the ability to stop any individual with a livestock trailer a violation of constitutional rights? Rammel said both are causes for concern.
“I am not against brand inspections when a change of ownership or crossing the state lines is an issue,” Rammel said. “However, I believe a Wyoming resident should be able to move freely with his or her animals while in the state. If county to county brand inspections curtail horse and cattle rustling, why aren’t all the states doing it. Livestock theft will always be an issue, but there are ways to stop thieves without violating law abiding citizens constitutional rights. We are trying to get someone to sponsor a bill in the legislature, if we can do that, we’ll go in and make our case that the law is basically defunct, has no teeth and never accomplished anything anyway.”
There are still producers who would be concerned about livestock theft without the county to county brand law, and there would be other ramifications to nullifying the almost 90-year-old law that should be taken into consideration, according to Eric Barlow, former Wyoming Livestock Board member and current Wyoming House District 03 Representative.
“If you get rid of the county to county brand programs, do you have a viable brand program anymore,” Barlow said. “And with challenges like what Mr. Rammel has brought up, if we’re not going to have the ability to have some sort of enforcement mechanism, how do you have a meaningful brand program.”
Additionally, fewer producer fees would mean funding challenges, resulting in fewer brand inspectors throughout the state. For instance, instead of scheduling a brand inspection within days, it could take a week or more, could mean traveling longer distances to a brand inspector or would likely cause brand inspection fees to increase.
“If you want to get rid of county to county inspections, you better understand the fiscal impacts and what all it could mean,” Barlow said.