SUBLETTE COUNTY – It’s been a long, long road since veterinarian Rex. F. Rammell first contested four citations for violating a state livestock law by not carrying brand inspections for horses he trailered from Sweetwater to Sublette County – on June 27, 2019.
Over the misdemeanor case’s three-plus years, different judges and lawyers have weighed in as Rammell argued Wyoming’s brand inspection law was unconstitutional.
Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a) gives any inspector, game warden or peace officer the authority to stop, inspect and search a livestock carrier, with or without a warrant, to examine the owner’s permit and the livestock inside.
Where it started
Rammell was driving a truck pulling a horse trailer when Sublette County Deputy Ty Huffman stopped him and asked for brand inspections for five horses, one a foal. Rammell received five citations, later reduced to four, for not having the paperwork.
Rammell represented himself in Sublette County Circuit Court where Judge Curt Haws assigned the case to Magistrate Clay Kainer. Rammell and then-deputy county attorney Stan Cannon argued in November 2019 before Magistrate Kainer about whether the livestock check was a proper search and seizure.
Rammell wanted the incident report thrown out as evidence before his Jan. 14, 2020, trial.
On Dec. 10, 2019, Magistrate Kainer ruled for Rammell, saying he would not restrict testimony of Rammell’s proposed witnesses on that issue – including Sheriff KC Lehr – until the trial.
“(Rammell) asserts in sum that the seizure of his vehicle on June 27, 2019, by law enforcement was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion,” Kainer’s order said. “At hearing, the State conceded that based upon Deputy Huffman’s report there was no reasonable suspicion much less probable cause at the time Deputy Huffman conducted the traffic stop of (Rammell’s) vehicle, the state relies upon Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a).”
No probable cause
The magistrate cited pertinent constitutional case law that a warrantless stop must relate to commercial property in a closely regulated industry and whose operation poses a significant risk to public welfare.
“Deputy Huffman observed a pickup truck with a trailer containing four to five horses and turned his vehicle around to conduct a ‘livestock inspection.’ There is no evidence (the deputy) knew or suspected that the driver, vehicle, trailer or livestock were engaged in a commercial activity,” he wrote. “Deputy Huffman merely observed a pickup pulling a trailer with horses and decided to seize the driver and vehicle.”
State failed burden
Kainer said the law was “in essence, a theft detection and prevention statute.”
“Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the State has failed to meet the burden imposed upon it by the U.S. Constitution to demonstrate that the warrantless seizure of (Rammell’s) vehicle was not unreasonable. Accordingly, any evidence obtained after Deputy Huffman ‘activated’ his lights was obtained illegally and shall not be admissible at trial.”
Sublette County Attorney Mike Crosson said the order nullified the state’s trial evidence. Options could include dismissing the charges – but Crosson sought a higher court’s “more favorable” interpretation or at least clarification.
He also argued Kainer was not properly appointed and approved as a Circuit Court magistrate
Judge Haws reviewed Kainer’s ruling and upheld it. To challenge it, Crosson submitted the case to 4th District Court Judge John Fenn, who remanded Kainer’s ruling. The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office also participated due to the question of the law’s constitutionality.
Years of court hearings with several judges presiding brought Rammell’s case to trial last year in Circuit Court, where he was found guilty and sentenced to fines.
Rammell appealed his conviction to 9th District Court Judge Marv Tyler, where he, Crosson and WAGO attorneys filed briefs and began oral arguments. That hearing ran over its allotted time and a follow-up hearing was not scheduled so the civil case languished.
On July 22, Crosson submitted a motion asking Judge Tyler if parties should set a new oral argument hearing or if the judge would rule on the appeal “without further argument.”
Several days later, Judge Tyler assigned the appeal to his “brief only docket.”
On Sept. 30, Judge Tyler affirmed the Circuit Court’s previous judgment and sentence.