9/15/2017Arkansas Speed Trap Town Demands Right To Issue Tickets
Damascus, Arkansas fights court battle to remove official speed trap designation.
A notorious speed trap town in Arkansas is fighting for the right to generate the majority of its budget from traffic citations. Damascus, population 379, ran afoul of the state law that punishes towns that generate thirty percent of revenue from traffic fines by prohibiting the local police department from patrolling state highways. On Tuesday, the Arkansas attorney general argued Damascus was wrong to complain that the speed trap law offers no fair way to challenge a speed trap designation.
"There is ample opportunity for judicial review of sanctions imposed under the Arkansas Speed Trap Law," assistant attorney general William C. Bird III argued. "Due process was not lacking in the application of the statute to the plaintiffs in this case because the prosecuting attorney afforded the plaintiffs 30 days in which to respond to the findings before imposing sanctions."
US Highway 65 runs through Damascus for 1.6 miles, and the city police department raised $450,121 in fines from motorists surprised that the road's 60 MPH speed limit suddenly dropped to 45 MPH. Since the town only spends $505,575 on city services, Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland saw no choice but to apply the speed trap law.
The town faces an uphill battle in fighting the designation. In May, Mayor L.B. Pavatt petitioned the Faulkner County Circuit Court for an emergency injunction on the grounds that the order would "potentially endanger motorists and pedestrians" if the local police were banned from issuing speeding tickets. Judge Chris Carnahan did not buy that argument.
"Based on the filings in this matter the court cannot find that there is any irreparable injury at this time," the judge ruled. "The plaintiffs' own pleadings in this matter indicate that agenst of the Arkansas State Police, Faulkner County Sheriff's Office and Van Buren County Sheriff's Office will take up the traffic enforcement duties along the affected highways, as such alleviating any need for an injunction."
Damascus argues that the speeding ticket revenue figure counts citations issued for expired tags, equipment violations, and other tickets local officers were able to issue to motorists passing through the town. The city's adjusted analysis estimates that the correct percentage of revenue generated by speeding tickets is between 25.5 percent and 32.4 percent.
"Citing these adjusted figures, it is at worst arguable that Damascus qualifies as a speed trap under the present iteration of the statute," Damascus city attorney Beau Wilcox wrote. "At best, it simply does not reach the thirty percent threshold at all."