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United States v. Hugs

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21509
Nos. 94-30200, -30201, 109 F.3d 1375/(9th Cir., 03/17/1997)

The court affirms a district court decision to convict two men who trapped, shot at, and killed eagles in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The court first holds that the men can only challenge the facial validity of the Eagle Protection Act and its regulations, not the operation of the underlying administrative scheme. Their failure to apply for a permit precludes a challenge to the manner in which the Eagle Protection Act is administered. Next, the court holds that the Eagle Protection Act does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution after analysis under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbids the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion unless imposition of the burden promotes a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The Eagle Protection Act imposes a substantial burden on the practice of Native American religions by restricting the ability of adherents to obtain and possess eagles and eagle parts. But the protection of bald and golden eagles serves a compelling government interest, which defendants do not deny. Further, the court is satisfied that the statute and its permit system provide the least restrictive means of conserving eagles while permitting access to eagles and eagle parts for religious purposes. The court then holds that the district court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury that the U.S. government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants "did not take [or purchase] the eagle as a sacred object for personal use in religious ceremonies or practices." The Eagle Protection Act contains no exceptions for religious use without a permit. Defendants' proffered instruction assumed that the Eagle Protection Act was unconstitutional. While this may have been defendants' theory of the case, it presented an issue of law to be determined by the judge, not the jury.

Next, the court holds that an undercover agent's conduct does not warrant dismissal of defendants' indictments. The U.S. government neither precipitated defendants' criminal activity nor impaired their due process rights to a fair trial. And the agent's conduct falls short of the level of outrageousness required to invalidate a prosecution under the Due Process Clause. The court also holds that the district court did not have to instruct the jury regarding the illegality of the agent's acts to assist the jury in evaluating the agent's credibility. A defendant is not entitled to a particular form of instructions so long as the given instructions fairly and adequately cover the defendants' theories of defense. Last, the court holds that the district court did not err regarding the jury's inquiry about the definition of "sale" in the context of an Eagle Protection Act violation. Defendants could not be prejudiced by the court's definition, because they were not convicted of any counts charging "sell" or "sale."

Counsel for Plaintiff
Kris A. McLean, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
100 N. Park, Ste. 100, Helena MT 59601
(406) 441-1355

Counsel for Defendant
Anthony Gallagher
Federal Defender's Office
P.O. Box 3547, Great Falls MT 49403
(406) 727-5328

Before Browning, Rymer, and Nelson, JJ.