Huntsville city leaders shelve hands-free ordinance vote after long debate

WAFF 48's D'Quan Lee reporting
Published: Sep. 16, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - There was fierce debate surrounding a proposed ordinance at this week’s Huntsville City Council meeting.

If city leaders vote to enact this new ordinance, being on your phone was driving would become a primary offense, similar to other crimes like speeding or turning without using your signal.

An officer having the ability to do that without some burden of proof is concerning to some.

”One of my concerns is that how do you make it permissible how do you prove someone had their phone rather than the word of somebody that is a police officer versus the word of someone who’s in the vehicle,” said District One Councilman Devyn Keith.

Attorney Hunter Garnett told me today that he supports the ordinance, but he’s concerned it could be exploited.

“One concern that I would have with this ordinance is that generally, it’s younger people that are driving while distracted and Alabama has a history of discriminating against young men of color specifically,” said Garnett. “And this could be used as an excuse to pull over drivers that haven’t really committed a crime and be used as a pretext to pull someone over and harass them or discriminate against them.”

Another concern - this could lead to a “he said, she said” situation between drivers and police about whether or not someone was using a phone.

City Administrator John Hamilton conceded there will be cases where that happens, but it’ll be to a judge to decide how it is handled.

“The speeding laws don’t define exactly how the police officer has to prove it, that’s for the judge to decide, that’s for a jury if it’s a jury trial to decide, that’s a prosecutor’s job to be able to prove it,” Hamilton said.

City leaders will discuss the ordinance again at the September 28th City Council meeting.

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