Cody man fighting for jury trial in illegal outfitting case

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A Cody man charged with illegally acting as an outfitter in 2013 says he should be allowed to plead his case to a jury.

In the coming months, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill will decide whether Jim Pehringer is entitled to a jury trial rather than just a bench trial before a Circuit Court judge.

Pehringer is charged with eight misdemeanor counts of outfitting without a license. Prosecutors allege he helped guide eight hunters on the Antlers Ranch near Meeteetse — and collected thousands of dollars from them.

Pehringer has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were filed in April but relate to allegations from the fall of 2013.

Wyoming’s Rules of Criminal Procedure generally say that a person does not have a right to a jury trial unless their charges carry the possibility of jail or prison time. In this case, the maximum possible penalty for each count is a $5,000 fine and the loss of five years worth of hunting, fishing, trapping or outfitting privileges.

However, Wyoming law specifies that “in criminal proceedings in a Circuit Court the accused shall have the right to a trial by jury” unless that person waives that right.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters, who’s been presiding over the criminal case, opted to ask Judge Cranfill to sort out the apparently contradictory rules and laws.

Cranfill agreed in August to answer this formal question:

“Is a criminal defendant in Circuit Court entitled to a jury trial when said defendant is charged with offenses which do not require incarceration as a potential penalty in light of the language contained in (Wyoming statute) and (the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure)?”

Pehringer, represented by attorney Joey Darrah of Powell, is due to file his brief later this month. The state, represented by the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, will then have 45 days to file a response. Pehringer then gets 15 days to file a reply before Cranfill makes a ruling. There could also be oral arguments.

In the meantime, the criminal case against Pehringer is on hold.

Antlers Ranch owner Sam May has come to Pehringer’s defense. In a sworn statement he made after the charges were filed, May said Pehringer “never took or was paid one dime for the service he performed.”

May confirmed that Pehringer assisted some of the hunters and collected checks from, but says Pehringer had always intended — and ultimately did — give the money back to Antlers Ranch. May says that Pehringer had agreed to manage hunting on the ranch without any

compensation.

Pehringer is not the first person to want a jury trial on allegations of illegal outfitting.

When former Cody resident Russell Stockie pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal outfitting at a November 2015 hearing, he indicated he was grudgingly accepting the deal and would have preferred to take his case to a jury.

“If I could have a jury trial, I’d be there right now,” Stockie, who appeared by phone, said at his sentencing.

Stockie contended that two elk hunters who’d paid him a couple thousand dollars in 2014 were friends who had insisted on giving him money.

Although the charges didn’t carry the possibility of jail time, Stockie ended up spending three days in jail because authorities opted to have him arrested on the charges and held until his first court appearance.

It’s possible he could receive more jail time, too. Park County Sheriff’s Office records accessed on Monday showed an active  warrant for Stockie’s arrest, because he failed to fully pay $5,080 worth of court-ordered fines and fees.

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