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Court debates boat-search regulations

ST. PAUL -- A case that tests the limits on boat searches by conservation officers drew the state Supreme Court into a debate Monday over the value Minnesotans place on protecting natural resources versus their expectation of privacy.

Justices heard the case of John Colosimo, a lawyer from Virginia, Minn., who wouldn't let a game warden inspect his boat on a portage between two lakes in northern Minnesota. Colosimo was convicted for refusing an inspection, but it was overturned last summer by the Court of Appeals.

On one side, assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jeff Vlatkovich argued that conservation officers would be hamstrung if they needed to establish probable cause of a violation before a "limited inspection" of fishing boats. He leaned on Minnesota's constitutional mention of managing and preserving game and fish.

With 2.1 million anglers and fewer than 200 officers in the state, he said, "it's the only way to enforce game and fish laws."

On the other side, Colosimo warned that allowing officers to act without some evidence of wrongdoing would infringe on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

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