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If you live in or have traveled to an area frequented by outdoor enthusiasts, you may come across a game warden, a local state or federal official tasked with enforcing the laws regarding hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation.
But what other powers do game wardens have? Are game warden's law enforcement powers limited to issuing citations for hunting out of season, or can they enforce other criminal laws such as DUI?
Do game wardens have the same powers as police?
Although a game warden is generally concerned with enforcing laws regarding wildlife, in most states a game warden can, and will, cite you for violation of other laws, such as driving under the influence.
In Texas, for example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife code states that Parks and Wildlife Department officers "have the same powers, privileges, and immunities as peace officers" and "have the same authority as a sheriff to arrest, serve criminal or civil process, and require aid in serving criminal or civil process coextensive with the boundaries of this state."
In 2013 celebrity lawyer Erin Brockovich -- portrayed in the eponymous movie about her life by Julia Roberts -- was cited for DUI by a game warden while boating on Nevada's Lake Mead.
In some instances, game wardens may actually have more power than police officers when it comes to warrantless searches of persons or vehicles.
Typically, police officers must have probable cause or consent to search a person or a vehicle without a warrant. A 2012 California Supreme Court case found that even when a game warden lacks reasonable suspicion that a person has violated an applicable fish or game statute or regulation, they may still stop the suspect's vehicle and demand the suspect display any fish or game in the suspect's possession.
So have a healthy legal respect for game wardens, or it may end up costing you.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.