Flawed statute sinks another boating charge

SANDPOINT — A judge has scuttled a negligent boating charge against a Sandpoint man, but several other criminal charges stemming from a crash on Lake Pend Oreille remain afloat.

Jonathan Richard Beckley is scheduled to be tried on the remaining counts in Bonner County Magistrate Court on Feb. 21. He is pleading not guilty.

Beckley’s counsel, Deputy Public Defender Susie Jensen, moved to dismiss the grossly negligent operation of a vessel charge in the wake of a judge’s ruling that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

That ruling was issued in a negligent operation case against a Seattle man who crashed his powerboat into an anchored cabin cruiser at Priest Lake last July. Sandpoint attorney Bryce Powell successfully argued that the charge against his client, Todd Frederick Stauber, should be dismissed because the statute is so vague that even lawful conduct at the helm could be considered prohibited.

Judge Debra Heise agreed and dismissed Stauber’s case last month.

Idaho’s negligent operations statute makes it a crime to operate the vessel in a manner which endangers persons or property. The language in the statute is strikingly similar to the state’s former negligent driving statute, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court in 1958.

The negligent driving statute was later amended, but lawmakers inexplicably used its substandard language when drafting the negligent boating statute in the early 1980s.

Beckley, 37, is accused of crashing a powerboat into an unoccupied sailboat that was moored at Lake Pend Oreille’s Ellisport Bay last August. Three people, including a 4-year-old child, were aboard Beckley’s vessel.

In addition to the negligent operation charge, Beckley was further charged with child endangerment and three violations of the Idaho Safe Boating Act.

Heise dismissed the negligent operations charge on Feb. 14, court records indicate.

Prior to the Ellisport Bay crash, Beckley was charged with negligent operation after allegedly driving recklessly through a no-wake zone encircling Warren Island and hitting a marker buoy last June. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of speeding and was fined $67, according to the Idaho Supreme Court Data Repository.

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