We have been following the shark trial here on Crimcourts this week. It got picked up by some local media outlets, but you heard about it here, first. The case went to trial yesterday, and Steven Moriconi was found guilty of 4 fishing violations: 3 related to taking the shark, and an additional charge for obstruction for throwing fish overboard. I was only able to catch snippets of the trial, but it was exciting stuff.
According FWC officers, they approached a boat with Mr. Moriconi and 2 of his friends. As they pulled up, there was a large shark tied up at the boat, and Mr. Moriconi was slitting open its belly. Officers alleged that he was gutting it, which is apparently necessary to protect shark meat. They found some snappers in the water which, coupled with the snappers on the boat, put Mr. Moriconi over his bag limit. He was charged with harvesting a protected shark (a Sandbar Shark), fishing for the shark with a powerhead (bangstick), and for fishing for the shark with something other than line and tackle.
Mr. Moriconi took the stand in his defense, and argued that he had not been harvesting the shark. NBC carried snippets of his testimony. According to his testimony, he had been spear fishing on a dive, when the shark started circling. He says he sent the fish on his line to the surface, but the shark continued to close in. He testified that he was in fear for his safety, as the shark appeared aggressive. He was on the bottom when the shark turned and came directly at him. His spear had been fired, but his powerhead was affixed to his gun, and when the shark got near enough, he struck its head, discharging the powerhead bullet. Were these statements true, he would be justified in using force to defend himself from the perceived threat.
He testified that after he had surfaced, the other men on the boat had gaffed the dying shark. He says that they determined that the shark was pregnant, and that they slit the belly open to release the babies, and they were able to save several of them, which swam off. In fact, the FWC shark expert who performed the necropsy (sharkropsy?) testified confirmed that the shark’s organs were still in the carcass. He also testified that he had a negative history with some of the FWC officers involved, and that they were rude and aggressive with him from the moment they made contact.
The judge was not persuaded by Mr. Moriconi’s testimony, and found him guilty as charged. While Mr. Moriconi’s testimony occasionally pushed the limits of credulity, especially the miraculous save of several shark pups, I thought he had a strong chance of success as his testimony was unrebutted. Obviously nobody else was present on the bottom of the ocean to contradict his testimony, and dead sharks tell no tales. That left his testimony unrebutted, and even if the court was skeptical of his testimony, there was a dearth of evidence to contradict it. The only thing approaching contradiction, was an alleged statement by Mr Moriconi that he had a friend he was catching the shark for. Moriconi countered that he made the friend statement later, and only in speculation of what they’d do with the carcass.
If his story was believed, or was reliable enough to case a reasonable doubt, he would have been not guilty of the charges. Often, the truth lies somewhere between the two sides of a story. For instance, perhaps he did kill the shark in self-defense, but later decided to keep it. That would be a defense to the charge of fishing with a powerhead, but not for the harvesting of the animal. Mr. Moriconi has some interesting appellate issues, should he choose to appeal the conviction. He might not file the appeal, since he got probation, and an appeal would be costly. In addition to the lack of evidence contradicting his story, there are significant jurisdictional issues to ask for reconsideration. The issues were raised at trial, but Moriconi’s lawyer was unsuccessful.
What stands out for me is the issue of double jeopardy. Mr. Moriconi got three separate convictions for the taking of one shark. While the elements are different, the criminal action- harvesting the shark- is essentially the same and he’s therefore being punished three times for the same action. One of those charges probably subsumes the others. If an appeal is filed, Crimcourts will continue to follow the case. And I leave you once again with Uncle Jimbo… “It’s coming right for us!!!”