Doing time for a ‘serious offense against the planet’

By: Rox Laird on July 20th, 2016

You can do serious time in federal prison for selling black rhinoceros horns, even if the horns were originally purchased before such sales were made illegal.

That is the conclusion of the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Iowa.

James Hess, a taxidermist in Maquoketa, Ia., pled guilty to one count of trafficking following the sale of a pair of black rhinoceros horns, which is illegal under federal law. Black rhinoceros are an endangered species.

Hess purchased the rhino horns from a seller in Oregon, sold them to a third party who then sold them for $50,000 to a dealer who smuggles rhino horns from California to buyers in China and Taiwan.

While Hess plead guilty, he appealed the sentence of 27 months in federal prison handed down by Judge Linda R. Reade, chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa.

Hess argued the sentence was unreasonable, and he challenged as mere speculation Judge Reade’s finding that Hess’s actions “helped establish a market for these black rhino horns, and that is a serious offense against the planet.”

Hess contended he did not contribute to a market or demand for poached black rhino horns because the horns he purchased in Oregon were first acquired legally in 1957.

A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Monday dismissed that argument.

“The record supports the district court’s statement that Hess’s actions contributed to establishing and furthering a market for black rhinoceros horns,” the panel said in an opinion written by William Jay Riley, chief judge of the Eighth Circuit. “Using false identification, Hess purchased a pair of black rhinoceros horns and shipped the horns across the country — knowing they would be resold. The district court did not plainly err.”

And with that, the appeals court upheld Hess’ prison sentence.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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