VERNAL — A Uintah County father and son cited for hunting illegally two years ago hope to convince a jury they believed they weren't breaking the law.
Mike Humiston, the attorney for Rick Reber and his son Colton, said his clients "reasonably" believed two federal court rulings allowed them to hunt in the Book Cliffs without a license because of their Native American heritage.
Humiston admits he has his work cut out for him: A January ruling by an 8th District Court judge essentially prohibits him from entering any evidence in the case or putting any witnesses on the stand.
Rick Reber will be tried in 8th District Court in Vernal on March 18, while Colton, who is now 15, goes on trial in Juvenile Court on March 15.
Neither father nor son are enrolled members of any federally recognized Indian tribe. However, they claim membership in the Uintah Band as Indians of the Utah Territory. As such, they believe they have hunting and fishing rights based on their interpretation of two 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rulings.
"Mr. Reber is one of the people to whom the ruling in Timpanogos v. Conway applies because it says that those to whom the 1864 act applies can hunt and fish on the reservation without a state permit," said Humiston.
"Under Utah law and under the 14th Amendment, a person cannot be convicted of a crime if they were reasonably relying upon a published court ruling that says the conduct in question was not a crime. Under Utah law, a jury must decide whether or not a person was being reasonable, not the judge."
Humiston has witnesses he plans to call to the stand should questioning by the prosecution provide an opening and allow him to put on a defense. Among the potential witnesses are a University of Utah law professor who is an expert on Indian law and treaty rights, a former member of the Ute Tribe Business Committee and a terminated member of the Ute Tribe.
The court previously ruled Rick Reber is not entitled to "Indian status" because his blood quantum is 94 percent non-Indian. However, Humiston said that is irrelevant because he was born a non-terminated Uintah Band member and is entitled to hunting rights because they are unabrogated treaty rights.
In his ruling, 8th District Court Judge Lynn Payne said other courts have found that hunting and fishing rights cannot be inherited. Neither of the cases Reber is relying on hold that "the Timpanogos Tribe" has legal authority to issue hunting permits.
The judge also found that none of the witnesses proposed to be called by Humiston were relevant to the case.