Human-rights activists can’t be charged with littering for leaving bottles of water for migrants on federal property, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
In a split decision, the majority said there is no question that Daniel Millis put sealed gallon bottles of purified water on trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Tucson.
But Judge Sidney Thomas said Millis was charged under a section of law that makes it illegal to dispose of “garbage” in any wildlife refuge. And he said that term is sufficiently ambiguous so that it might not include the water bottles.
Thomas said that doesn’t necessarily give Millis and others the legal go-ahead to put out the bottles without fear of future prosecution.
“Millis likely could have been charged under a different regulatory section, such as abandonment of property or failure to obtain a special-use permit,” the judge wrote. “However, that is not the question presented here.”
Dissenting Judge Jay Bybee, said his colleagues were torturing the language.
“Leaving plastic bottles in a wildlife refuge is littering under any ordinary, common meaning of the word,” Bybee wrote.
Millis is a volunteer with No More Deaths. In 2008 he admitted to federal Fish and Wildlife officers that other volunteers he was driving around had been leaving filled water bottles and picking up empties.