Boating law faces constitutional challenge

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SANDPOINT — The constitutionality of Idaho’s negligent operation of a vessel law is being challenged by counsel for a Seattle man accused of crashing his motorboat into a cabin cruiser at Priest Lake.

Bryce Powell, a Sandpoint attorney representing Todd Frederick Stauber, contends the law is so vague that it violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Stauber was charged with violating Idaho’s Safe Boating Act by operating his vessel in a manner which endangered life and limb or another person’s property. The charge arose after Stauber crashed his boat into another boat that was under anchor at Luby Bay on the night of July 4, 2012.

As many as five people, including Stauber, were reportedly injured. The people aboard the cabin cruiser were not injured in the collision, according to probable cause affidavits in the case.

Powell argues the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not sufficiently advise the public what is considered prohibited conduct while at the helm of a vessel, forcing people to guess.

Although there are no appellate cases which address Idaho’s negligent operations statute, Powell said its language is nearly identical to that of a negligent driving statute that was struck down by the Idaho Supreme Court in 1958.

The high court held that the negligent driving statute did not define any general or specific acts or even require that the vehicle be driven in negligent, careless or unlawful manner.

“By the terms of the statute, the operation of a motor vehicle on a public highway could endanger or be likely to endanger a person or property without any act of commission or omission on the part of the driver recognized as criminal,” the Idaho Supreme Court ruling read.

Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Katie Murdock countered that the boating statute can withstand a three-tier validity analysis and added that plowing a boat into somebody else’s vessel is obviously conduct that endangers public safety and property.

“The language is enough to give a reasonably intelligent person an idea of what sort of conduct is prohibited,” Murdock wrote in response to Powell’s motion to dismiss.

Judge Debra Heise heard oral argument from the defense and the state in magistrate court on Wednesday. She took the matter under advisement and said a written ruling would be issued.

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