“Go Raccoons!” The case of the illegal mascot.

Perhaps I complain too much about the criminalization of trivial offenses. Sometimes the law is questionable. Other times the police and prosecutor get over-zealous.

One of the kinds of cases I came to dislike as a prosecutor were those dealing with animals. This is one of those areas where people get very upset, often out of proportion to the actual harm done.

A man may forgive you for kicking him, but he will never forgive you for kicking his dog.

Cases involving animals are often brought by in conservation agents. And that brings me to another kind of case I learned to dislike.

Conservation agents are mostly nice guys who belong to what you might call a “niche area” of law enforcement. Real cops deal with everything from traffic tickets to murder and usually are able to put things in perspective. But niche cops–that is, conservation agents, meter maids, dogcatchers, liquor inspectors, and the like—sometimes lack the larger view that enables them to view small cases as . . . small.

When I was a new prosecutor I was given a case about a fellow who had been caught possessing an illegal raccoon. My boss said it would need to be tried and that it would be good practice for me. I read all of these reports and met with the conservation agent, who was very interested in the public chastening of this particular lawbreaker.

The defendant was apparently unrepentant and refused to accept that he was a criminal who deserved to be punished (in this case by up to one year in jail).

So I went into court and masterfully laid out my case for the judge. The conservation agent was serious and professional; the evidence was ironclad, proving beyond all doubt that this stubborn lawbreaker had defiantly possessed an illegal raccoon and had been caught red-handed.

Then the defendant took the stand. The fool admitted everything! He explained how he had discovered this weakened & starving baby raccoon alone in his garbage can on a cold winter night. He took it in. Fed it. Raised it.

His children turned it into a family pet.

All of this in blatent violation of the law, § 252.040, RSMO.

And if that is not shocking enough, when summer came, the animal was pressed into service as mascot for the defendant’s softball team. He claimed that the raccoon was a big hit in his little uniform and tiny cap.

I gave an eloquent closing argument, exposing the defendant’s contempt for the law and heartless exploitation of this motherless creature. I suggested that the court make an example of him.

The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to a $5.00 fine. The example, apparently, was for me.