Charges were dropped this week against a Navajo man who was prepared to defend his right to hunt off-reservation without being subjected to Utah regulations.
Although the case was dropped, defense counsel John O'Connell and other supporters who rallied in the case say they do not intend to drop the issue.O'Connell, a Salt Lake attorney, said last week he planned to meet with the defendant, Eddie Holiday, and other Navajos who may be interested in pursuing the issue in other ways. O'Connell also planned to meet with wildlife officers and the attorney general of the Navajo Nation.
Seventh Circuit Court Judge Bruce K. Halliday ruled March 18 in favor of a motion the San Juan County attorney filed in February to dismiss the case against Holiday, 25.
The Oljato man was cited last October by a state wildlife officer for failure to properly tag a deer shot in South Cottonwood Canyon near Blanding.
County Attorney Craig Halls filed a Class B misdemeanor charge against Holiday in circuit court in November. Trial, originally set for December, was postponed until April 18 when Halls requested more time to research questions of treaty hunting rights raised by the case.
O'Connell said Holiday's case had represented an opportunity to resolve whether Utah was bound by an 1868 treaty, in which he maintains the Navajos reserved the right to continue hunting on aboriginal lands conveyed to the United States.
He said aboriginal lands of the Navajo may have extended beyond San Juan to the Green River in northern Grand County and the Henry Mountains in Garfield and Wayne counties.
"We felt that this matter should be resolved, and a criminal case was a good place to resolve it," O'Connell said, adding that he believed the state recommended that the county drop the case "because they knew they were going to lose."
Halls has refused comment.
The San Juan attorney had sought assistance on the Holiday case from the Utah attorney general last January because of the scope and significance of the issues. Paula Smith, assistant to the attorney general, advised Halls in a letter Feb. 15 to drop the charges against Holiday "in the interest of justice."
"The information on the case indicates that it may not squarely present the important issues," she added, noting that Holiday was cited only for failing to properly tag a deer, but he did have state tags in his possession.
According to Smith, the state preferred to pursue the hunting rights issue in meetings with the Navajos.