DAMASCUS, Ark. (KTHV) - Prosecutors are close to deciding if a small stretch of Central Arkansas highway is a true speed trap.
The Arkansas State Police just finished its investigation of the Damascus Police Department, which drivers claim is notorious for writing tickets.
Now the prosecuting attorney for the 20th Judicial District will take the results from the state police and determine if Damascus meets the standards of a speed trap.
“This is not a typical investigation,” remarked Cody Hiland, the district prosecutor. “This is something new to us, and new mostly to the state.”
The state police, with assistance from the Legislative Audit, reviewed three years’ worth of files regarding speeding tickets and the operations of the Demascus Police Department.
Lots of drivers complain about passing through Damascus, a town of less than 400 people, approximately half an hour north of Conway on Highway 65. The posted speed limit drops from 60 to 45 entering town. Drivers often consider areas like that to be speed traps if police officers wait on the other side and issue tickets, but that is not the legal definition of a speed trap.
“It’s a data-driven issue,” Hiland explained. “So we’ll look at that, see where the numbers are, compare that to the statute, and go from there.”
How much the speed limit drops and how much notice drivers receive do not matter to the law. If tickets equate for at least 30 percent of the police department’s spending, or if more than half of all tickets are issued for going less than 10 miles per hour over the limit, then it qualifies as a speed trap. The state statute for speed traps provides two possible penalties.
“Requiring that they not patrol on that stretch of highway, or if they do patrol, giving the money, the proceeds from any tickets, to the local school district,” Hiland explained.
The way in which the speed trap law, which was originally passed in 1995 and has since been modified, was written makes punishing a guilty police department difficult. The district prosecutor has the responsibility to both make a ruling and determine a punishment, with no judge or jury involved, but the statute says nothing about the potential duration of a punishment.
Adding to the difficulty of Hiland’s job, there is little, if any, precedent.
“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with this issue,” he mentioned. “It’s kind of a case of first impression for us. I’m not sure how often it’s happened in the rest of the state. It’s a pretty rare thing, I think, so trying to interpret that statute and getting a feel for the process is important, too. Not just the substance, but the process is important, because due process is critical to any proceeding like this.”
Hiland guess that he would know within the next week or two whether Damascus met the criteria for a speed trap. But because of the confusing nature of the law, it could be a while before he announces a punishment.