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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bear parts buy deemed lesser offense

Purchase of gallbladders not felony, court decides

In the case of one Spokane man, the bear parts do not make up the sum of a felony.

Appellate judges on Tuesday overturned the felony wildlife trafficking conviction of 52-year-old Jason M. Yon, after he paid $800 for four bear gallbladders in 2008 to undercover Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers.

Yon’s attorney, Richard Lee, successfully argued that his client should not have been convicted of a felony because state law sets a dollar figure of $250 per purchase of parts from big game animals. Yon bought two gallbladders in September and another two in October 2008 for $200 each.

“He is grateful” for the decision, Lee said. “I understand (wildlife enforcement officers) need to do their jobs, but I thought this was overkill.”

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mark Lindsey had a different view. He noted that the laws governing wildlife trafficking have different rules for different species.

“If you poach oysters and clams, the state law allows you to aggregate and take a total value even though each is a different animal. But the Legislature decided with big game, it should be a different offense,” he said.

The state argued that Yon should be judged on the two separate $400 purchases, which obviously fulfilled the $250 threshold. But Lee and Division III Court of Appeals Judge Laurel Siddoway, who wrote the opinion, did not agree, saying each gallbladder should be valued separately.

“Accordingly, a trafficking transaction involving the purchase of two black bear gallbladders, which necessarily came from two different bears, amounts to two distinct crimes under the Legislature’s chosen unit of prosecution,” Siddoway wrote.

Lindsey said he fears that the situation could cause wildlife trafficking offenders to keep purchases under the $250 limit, and thus face only second-degree wildlife trafficking, a gross misdemeanor.

Both first-degree and second-degree offenses carry the same potential sentence of up to a year in jail. But the felony conviction prevents the offenders from voting and carrying or owning a gun.

The case against Yon, who paid a $1,000 fine and forfeited the $800 he paid for the gallbladders, now goes back to Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque for resentencing on the lesser offense.

Lee said he hopes the case has reached its end.

“I hope that nothing happens,” he said, “because I think the state’s resources and county’s resources are better spent focusing on serious crimes.”

Bear gallbladders are prized in Asia for their medicinal properties.