By Kelly Burgess
A New Mexico man convicted of poaching a trophy mule deer in 2007 lost his appeal and has been ordered to pay $10,000 in civil penalties to reimburse the state for the loss of a valuable game animal. This is the largest civil penalty assessed since a 2006 state law that allows for higher fines on trophy-scoring sized animals went into effect.
Bradley A. Smith, 27, had contested the civil judgment sought by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in addition to two criminal counts of poaching. The Magistrate Court entered a $10,000 civil judgment, which was appealed to the District Court. After hearing testimony and arguments, Lovington District Judge Don Maddox determined that evidence established that the value of the deer was at least $10,000 and entered a judgment in favor of the Department of Game and Fish.
"There have been other civil penalties in the $2,000 to $6,000 range, but this case is the biggest civil penalty since the law went into effect " Dan Williams, Department of Game and Fish spokesman, told Outposts. "It's also the only one that has been appealed."
Smith of Hobbs, N.M., was arrested in January 2007 after a report to the Operation Game Thief hotline from a citizen who witnessed a trophy-class mule deer shot out of season. Search warrants served by Department conservation officers, New Mexico State Police, Lea County Sheriff's Office and the Hobbs Police Department led to the seizure of the trophy antlers.
Smith was convicted in June 2007 and ordered to pay $914 in fines and court costs for illegally killing two mule deer out of season and for hunting without a license. One of those deer had 32-inch-wide antlers that scored 202-3/8 inches, according to the Safari Club International system, qualifying it as a "trophy" deer. Standards adopted in 2006 by the New Mexico Legislature and the State Game Commission allow civil penalties of up to $10,000 for poaching a deer that scores 200 or more inches.
"Civil penalties like this send a strong message to anyone thinking about stealing New Mexico's valuable wildlife," said conservation officer Brian Guzman, the Department's lead investigator on the case. "This deer would have been a super trophy for any legal hunter."