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Published November 09, 2010, 09:43 AM

Deer shooting cases move to high court

FARGO, N.D. — Two similar but unrelated legal cases in which North Dakota cattle producers are accused of shooting deer to protect feed supplies remain in the court system.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Two similar but unrelated legal cases in which North Dakota cattle producers are accused of shooting deer to protect feed supplies remain in the court system.

Harlan Kleppe of Dawson, N.D., has appealed a case from Kidder County to the North Dakota Supreme Court and briefs are due in early December, says his attorney Robert V. Bolinske Jr. of Bismarck, N.D. Kleppe, who shot deer that he says were attacking his hay supplies, was not allowed to offer the defense of why he shot the deer, and the case was allowed to bypass the county trial to the high court. That case likely will have a hearing in January, Bolinske says.

In a somewhat similar but separate case, Bill Dethloff of Bismarck faces a sentencing hearing Jan. 7 in Burleigh County District Court in Bismarck. Bolinske, who is working with Dethloff’s attorney, Dan Oster, says the attorneys considered combining the cases but ultimately decided against it.

Dethloff’s case had been before Burleigh County District Judge Bruce Haskell for months and was expected to go to a 12-person jury trial in early October.

But on the day of the trial, before jury selection, Haskell surprised the parties and a room with numerous spectators by calling the parties into his chambers, telling them he had decided the night before against letting Dethloff describe to the jury why he’d shot the deer. As in the Kleppe case, the farmers’ lawyers had intended to use a defense that Dethloff was defending his property. They say the concept is similar to how a livestock producer is allowed to shoot certain predators that kill farm animals.

Bolinske says Dethloff filed a “conditional” plea of guilty, meaning that his rationale should be taken into account. His rationale was included in the record, which presumably will be used to determine whether Haskell committed a legal error and whether the case should go back to the county level, Bolinske says.

One of the things the court is studying is whether Dethloff is correct in claiming that a North Dakota Game and Fish officer or officers “for years” had known he’d been shooting deer to protect his feed supply and had somehow looked the other way.

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