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Geer v. Connecticut

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued November 22, 1895. ; March 2, 1896, Decided

No. 87.

Opinion

 [*521]   [**601]   [***794]  MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

] By the statutes of the State of Connecticut, referred to in the statement of facts, the open season for the game birds mentioned therein was from the first day of October to the first day of January.  [****5]  The birds which the defendant was charged with unlawfully having in his possession on the 19th of October, for the purpose of unlawful transportation beyond the State, were alleged to have been killed within the State after the first day of October. They were, therefore, killed during the open season. There was no charge that they had been unlawfully killed for the purpose of being transported outside of the State. The offence, therefore, charged was the possession of game birds, for the purpose of transporting them beyond the State, which birds had been lawfully killed within the State. The court of last resort of the State held, in interpreting the statute already cited, by the light afforded by previous enactments, that one of its objects was to forbid the killing of birds within the State during the open season for the purpose of transporting them beyond the State, and also additionally as a distinct offence to punish the having in possession, for the purpose of transportation beyond the State, birds lawfully killed within the State. The court found that the information did not charge the first of these offences, and therefore that the sole offence which it covered was the [****6]  latter.  [*522]  It then decided that the State had power to make it an offence to have in possession, for the purpose of transportation beyond the State, birds which had been lawfully killed within the State during the open season, and that the statute in creating this offence did not violate the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States.  The correctness of this latter ruling is the question for review. In other words, the sole issue which the case presents is, was it lawful under the Constitution of the United States (section 8, Article I) for the State of Connecticut to allow the killing of birds within the State during a designated open season, to allow such birds, when so killed, to be used, to be sold and to be bought for use within the State, and yet to forbid their transportation beyond the State? Or, to state it otherwise, had the State of Connecticut the power to regulate the killing of game within her borders so as to confine its use to the limits of the State and forbid its transmission outside of the State?

In considering this inquiry ] we of course  [**602]  accept the interpretation affixed to the state statute by the court of last resort [****7]  of the State. The solution of the question involves a consideration of the nature of the property in game and the authority which the State had a right lawfully to exercise in relation thereto.

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161 U.S. 519 *; 16 S. Ct. 600 **; 40 L. Ed. 793 ***; 1896 U.S. LEXIS 2185 ****

GEER v. CONNECTICUT.

Prior History:  [****1]  ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ERRORS OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT.

THE General Statutes of the State of Connecticut provide (Sec. 2530, Revision of 1888):

"Every person who shall buy, sell, expose for sale, or have in his possession for any purpose, or who shall hunt, pursue, kill, destroy or attempt to kill any woodcock, quail, ruffled grouse, called partridge, or gray squirrel, between the first day of January and the first day of October, the killing or having in possession of each bird or squirrel to be deemed a separate offence, . . . shall be fined not more than twenty-five dollars. . . ."

It is further by the statute of the same State provided (Sec. 2546):

"No person shall at any time kill any woodcock, ruffled grouse of quail for the purpose of conveying the same beyond the limits of this State; or shall transport or have in possession, with intent to procure the transportation beyond said limits, any of such birds killed within this State. The reception by any person within this State of any such bird or birds for shipment to a point without the State shall be prima facie evidence that said bird or birds were killed within the State for the purpose of carrying the [****2]  same beyond its limits."

An information was filed against the plaintiff in error in the police court of New London, Connecticut, charging him with, on the 19th day of October, 1889, unlawfully receiving and having in his possession, with the wrongful and unlawful intent to procure the transportation beyond the limits of the State certain woodcock, ruffled grouse and quail killed within this State after the first day of October, 1889. The trial of the charge resulted in the conviction of the defendant and the imposing of a fine upon him. Thereupon the case was taken by appeal to the criminal court of Common Pleas. In that court the defendant demurred to the information on the ground, among others, that the statute upon which that prosecution was based violated the Constitution of the United States.

The demurrer being overruled, and the defendant declining to answer over, he was adjudged guilty and condemned to pay a fine and costs, and to stand committed until he had complied with the judgment. An appeal was prosecuted to the Supreme Court of Errors of the State. The defendant on the appeal assigned the following errors:

"The court erred --

"1st. In holding that the allegations [****3]  contained in the complaint constitute an offence in law.

"2d. In holding that said complaint was insufficient in the law without an allegation that the birds therein mentioned were killed in this State for the purpose of conveying the same beyond the limits of this State.

"3d. In refusing to hold that so much of section 2546 of the General Statutes, under which this complaint is brought, as may be construed to forbid the transportation from this State of the birds therein described, lawfully killed and permitted by the laws of the State to become the subject of traffic and commerce, is unconstitutional and void.

"4th. In refusing to hold that so much of said section as may be construed to forbid the receiving and having in possession, with intent to procure the transportation thereof to another State, birds therein described, lawfully killed and permitted by the laws of this State to become the subject of traffic and commerce, is unconstitutional and void.

"5th. In holding that the defendant is guilty of an offence under said section if such birds were lawfully killed in this State and were bought by the defendant in the markets of this State as articles of property, merchandise [****4]  and commerce, and had begun to move as an article of interstate commerce.

"6th. In not rendering judgment for defendant."

In the Supreme Court the conviction was affirmed. The case is reported in 61 Connecticut, 144. To this judgment of affirmance this writ of error is prosecuted.

CORE TERMS

killed, transportation, commerce, animals, belong, limits, ownership, lawfully, interstate commerce, hunting, forbid, regulation, naturoe, feroe, first day, food, natural law, state power, sovereign, acquire, fine, ubi, common ownership, unlawfully, woodcock, ruffled, grouse, cases, quail, rights of property

Environmental Law, Natural Resources & Public Lands, Fish & Wildlife Protection, Governments, Police Powers, Civil Procedure, Jurisdiction on Certiorari, Considerations Governing Review, State Court Decisions, Legislation, Interpretation, Agriculture & Food, Animal Protection, Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, General Overview, Real Property Law, Trusts, Public Trust Doctrine, Criminal Law & Procedure, Miscellaneous Offenses, Cruelty to Animals, Elements, Congressional Duties & Powers, Commerce Clause, Interstate Commerce, Prohibition of Commerce, Native Americans, Authority & Jurisdiction