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Idaho boating law unconstitutionally vague, judge rules

Sun., Oct. 6, 2013, midnight

SANDPOINT – An Idaho state District Court judge has upheld a lower court’s ruling that Idaho’s negligent boating law is unconstitutionally vague.

Judge Jeff Brudie, of the 2nd District Court, made the ruling Wednesday, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported.

The case stems from a charge of negligent operation of a vessel against Todd Frederick Stauber. Stauber’s powerboat collided with an anchored cabin cruiser on Priest Lake on July 4, 2012, following a fireworks display.

In January, Bonner County Magistrate Judge Debra Heise granted a motion to dismiss the charge after Stauber’s attorney, Bryce Powell, argued that Idaho law doesn’t expressly state what conduct is considered illegal.

In his argument, Powell cited a 1958 Idaho Supreme Court case against a motorist charged with negligent driving. The court threw out the charge after ruling the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

Powell said the language in the negligent driving law was similar to the current law involving negligent boating. Heise agreed, ruling that the statute was unconstitutionally vague because it failed to identify any general or specific prohibited acts.

Bonner County officials filed an appeal, leading to Brudie’s decision that Heise’s analysis was “sound and consistent.”

“The statute lacks sufficient clarity and definiteness such that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited, and is worded in a manner that allows arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, being so general and indefinite that it encompasses not only acts properly and legally punishable, but also acts that cannot be punished,” Brudie wrote.

Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall said a decision hasn’t been made on whether to appeal.

“We are going to review the ruling and discuss the matter with the attorney general’s office before making a decision on any further appeals,” Marshall said. “Sometimes it is necessary to obtain a ruling from the Supreme Court before the Legislature will act.”

Tags: boating

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