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United States v. Lantis.

No. 20-8031.  D.Wyo. Judge Moritz. Disorderly Conduct Misdemeanor Charge—“Recklessness” Requirement—Subjective versus Objective Standard.

November 1, 2021


Defendant set out on a day hike on the Mount Holmes trail in Yellowstone National Park. He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, a light windbreaker, and tennis shoes. He did not carry food, but he had water, bear spray, a cell phone, a walkie-talkie, and a GPS tracking device. When he reached the base of Mount Holmes late in the day, he decided to leave the trail and head back via a different, unmarked route. After leaving the trail, defendant called his sister to let her know he would not make it out of the park before nightfall. He spent the night in the park in cold and wet conditions. The following day, defendant’s mother called a park ranger to express concern for her son. The ranger then communicated with defendant by cell phone and obtained his location. Defendant was in rugged country that was seldom visited by park personnel and that was heavily populated with mountain lions, bears, and wolves. The ranger told defendant which direction to walk so he would eventually intersect a marked trail, but defendant later told the ranger he was unable to continue and needed help. Because it was too late in the day for anyone to hike in and rescue defendant before dark, the ranger organized a helicopter rescue.

Following the rescue, the ranger issued defendant a citation for disorderly conduct in violation of 36 CFR § 2.34(a)(4), alleging that he knowingly or recklessly created a risk of public alarm, nuisance, or jeopardy. After a bench trial, a magistrate judge found defendant guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to five years of unsupervised probation, banned him from Yellowstone National Park for five years, and ordered him to pay $2,880 in restitution to the National Park Service for the cost of helicopter rescue. Defendant unsuccessfully appealed to the district court.

On appeal, defendant argued that the magistrate judge erred by applying the incorrect legal standard for recklessness by holding him solely to an objective standard of behavior rather than also finding that he disregarded a risk of which he was subjectively aware. However, the magistrate judge inferred defendant’s subjective state of mind from the surrounding circumstances and the obviousness of the risk, and nothing in the magistrate judge’s order indicates that the decision was based only on an objective standard. The magistrate judge recited and applied the correct standard in concluding that defendant consciously disregarded a known risk.

The conviction was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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