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Huntsville’s hands-free driving law gets clarification from council

HUNTSVILLE – The Huntsville City Council passed an ordinance Thursday amending the previous ordinance related to hands-free driving, a motion that attempts to clear the language on the law.

(Huntsville Police Department/Facebook, 256 Today)

In sum, the ordinance states personnel with the Huntsville Police Department can’t pull a vehicle over for a possible hands-free infraction and use that as probable cause to actually look for other violations.

HPD asked for the proposal to be made.

“Intent is really to just provide a much clearer language around probable cause aspects of the stop,” City Administrator John Hamilton told the council at Thursday’s regular meeting. “The violation associated with having a cell phone in your hands is similar to other traffic violations in terms of how police may observe it. And, therefore, they’ll pull you over if they observe a violation, and that’s what existed in the ordinance as (the council) passed it originally.

“But what police asked for was very, very clear, precise language like other traffic violations that that violation itself cannot serve as probable cause for other potential violations that may have occurred.”

However, as has been the case, if a police officer stops a driver for a hands-free violation and discovers another crime during the stop, the officer has a right to engage with that situation. In other words, if an officer makes a stop based on hands-free driving and then smells marijuana or alcohol or sees a potential criminal act, they can act on that discovery because of probable cause.

“Oftentimes in traffic enforcement, a police officer may pull you over for speeding or running a stop sign or those sorts of things,” Hamilton said. “In the course of dealing with that, you may discover a violation of some other source, some other crime. But, the mere traffic stop itself can’t serve as probable cause for searching your vehicle for some other things.

“So the example that oftentimes people throw out is drug paraphernalia. You know, speeding does not serve as probable cause to search your vehicle for drug paraphernalia, but an officer observing drug paraphernalia in your car, and them personally witnessing that when they stop you, that can serve as the probable cause for them to proceed to check for other violations.”

Hamilton said the amendment was made in hopes the public will understand that a hands-free violation is not any different from any other traffic violation. 

“It ensures that constitutional rights to the citizen are protected and it provides that clear language to the police on exactly how they can proceed in those circumstances,” he said. 

 

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