VICTORY IN OHIO! State Drops Warrantless Inspection Scheme Following Taxidermist’s Lawsuit
After a quick hunt, IJ has mounted Ohio’s intrusive taxidermy inspection scheme on the wall. For years, a state regulation allowed game wardens to enter taxidermy shops without a warrant to inspect records. It gave officers complete discretion over the scope of the inspections—and anybody who refused could be criminally prosecuted. But now, thanks to a lawsuit filed by IJ client Jeremy Bennett under our new Project on the Fourth Amendment, that’s all changed.
Jeremy runs a taxidermy shop in Logan, Ohio. The shop is a private place: It sits just a few steps from Jeremy’s front door. It’s where he works to support his family. And his kids, who are homeschooled, do occasional lessons there. Jeremy doesn’t want just anybody barging into his shop—and yet, until recently, that is exactly what Ohio’s regulations allowed.
Because officers had total power to snoop around taxidermy shops for recordkeeping violations, Jeremy suffered years of intrusive inspections. Officers would show up unannounced, enter without permission, and spend hours rooting around. Things came to a head in 2020, when an officer showed up on one of Jeremy’s busiest days of the year. After an hour, the officer asked to see a part of the shop that was closed for the season. When Jeremy asked him to come back in a few weeks, the officer said OK, left—and then sought criminal charges against Jeremy for “refusing” an inspection.
Jeremy was able to strike a plea deal and avoid jail time. But by that point, he had had enough. In November 2021, with IJ’s help, Jeremy filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit to strike down the warrantless inspection scheme. Within months, the state ordered its wardens to cease all warrantless inspections, amended its regulations to require consent or a warrant, and even agreed to pay Jeremy $5,000—about what it cost him to defend against the bogus prosecution before IJ got involved.
Ohio’s capitulation is a huge win for property rights. Taxidermists throughout the state can now tell game wardens to come back with a warrant before entering their shops. And governments everywhere are on notice that, if they unreasonably intrude on business owners’ Fourth Amendment rights, they too will find themselves in IJ’s sights.
Josh Windham is an IJ attorney and IJ’s Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution.
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