WASHINGTON – Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a Charleston man who claimed his constitutional rights were violated during a trial over a speeding ticket.

Rodney E. Hays was appealing a December 2011 jury verdict that awarded him $904 on his Sixth Amendment claim, which alleged he was unfairly not given a public trial.

Hays, who was representing himself, asked for $10 million in his complaint, which was filed Nov. 20, 2009, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against the Town of Gauley Bridge.

Gauley Bridge Municipal Court Judge William Kincaid and three Gauley Bridge police officers were also named as defendants.

On Feb. 25, U.S. Supreme Court Clerk William K. Suter entered an order declining to hear Hays’ appeal, affirming the decisions made by the jury and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“Because evidence was presented below to support the jury’s finding of probable cause (to stop Hays’ vehicle and issue a speeding ticket), we reject Hays’ challenge to the jury’s verdict,” the Fourth Circuit’s August opinion says.

“Hays also contests as inadequate the amount of the jury award in his favor on his Sixth Amendment claim. This challenge seems to be based on the district court’s failure to more fully direct Hays, who proceeded without counsel, as to how to pursue his rights during the litigative process, including at trial.

“However, ‘although pro se pleadings are construed liberally, the district court cannot serve as de facto counsel for pro se litigants, informing them of the appropriate procedural steps to take during litigation.’”

Hays’ complaint alleged that having three armed police officers sitting across the table from Hays during his trial was meant to intimidate him.

He added that his speeding conviction was overturned when he appealed to Fayette County Circuit Court.

The jury ruled for Hays on only one of his claims – that the closed courtroom during the speeding ticket trial caused damages for emotional distress, including annoyance and inconvenience.

The defendants were represented by Vaughn Sizemore of Bailey & Wyant.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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