Arkansas AG filing asks court to toss city's speed-trap suit

CONWAY -- A Faulkner County Circuit Court should dismiss a lawsuit in which the town of Damascus has asked the court to overturn a prosecutor's finding that local police were running a speed trap, the Arkansas attorney general's office said Tuesday.

Filed by Damascus City Attorney Beau Wilcox in June, the lawsuit also asked the court to overturn Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland's sanctions against the community that lies along U.S. 65 in Faulkner and Van Buren counties. About 2 miles of the highway, which carries traffic to Branson, the Buffalo National River and other Ozark attractions, runs through the town of roughly 400 residents.

In May, Hiland ordered the Damascus Police Department to quit patrolling the affected highways until the end of his term as the 20th Judicial Circuit's prosecutor, at the end of 2018. Hiland, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock, could leave the prosecutor's office even sooner.

Officers from both counties' sheriff's offices and the Arkansas State Police have been patrolling the affected highways since Hiland's ruling. After one year, the city may petition the prosecutor's office and request a review of any public-safety concerns that result from the decision.

The attorney general's office responded Tuesday in a dismissal motion filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court in response to the town's argument that the state's speed trap law is unconstitutionally vague.

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Assistant Attorney General William C. Bird III wrote and signed the dismissal motion.

Wilcox has previously contended the law is unclear about who has the authority to investigate and hand down sanctions.

Bird wrote that the speed trap law, Arkansas Code Annotated 12-8-401, "is clear on its face and unambiguous in its language and is not unconstitutionally vague." The town also was not denied due process, he said. Instead, it has been "afforded ample opportunity and means to challenge" Hiland's findings, Bird said.

Bird noted that Hiland had provided the town a chance to respond in writing to his findings and that it did. Further, Bird said, state law provides the town with "ample opportunity for judicial review" of the prosecutor's actions.

"When the constitutionality of a statute is challenged, all doubts must be resolved in favor of finding the statute to be constitutional," Bird wrote.

"A statute should be struck down only when there is clear incompatibility between the statute and the constitution," he added.

"This argument also fails," Bird said. "Here, a person of ordinary intelligence can easily ascertain the meaning of traffic offenses using common understanding and practice." In no way, should the term be construed to refer only to speeding citations, he said.

Wilcox will have a chance to respond in a court filing.

State Desk on 09/13/2017

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