Oral arguments were heard Tuesday on whether Hailey’s cellphone ordinance is in conflict with state law. Fifth District Judge Jonathan Brody said he would consider both sides and take the matter under advisement. No time of when a decision would be made was given.
The debate about the ordinance began when a woman was pulled over in Hailey on the premise that she was talking on her cellphone, an infraction under city ordinance. The case grew to a misdemeanor probation violation when it was found that her driver’s license had been suspended.
The woman’s defense attorney, Doug Nelson, asked for a motion to suppress evidence in a memorandum dated Aug. 23, arguing that the Hailey ordinance “was enacted without the required authority from the state.”
“As a result, the ordinance is invalid and [my client] was seized without any reasonable suspicion or probable-cause to believe she was driving contrary to law,” Nelson stated.
Fifth District Magistrate Judge Daniel Dolan granted the motion on Oct. 16, agreeing that the city’s ordinance is contrary to state law. In an interview following the decision, Hailey’s prosecuting attorney, Rick Allington, said the city would appeal the decision to District Court, and the case could go all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court.
“The city disagrees with the judge’s interpretation of the law,” he said.
Oral arguments on the appeal were heard by Brody, with several attorneys and Hailey law enforcement officers sitting in the audience. Allington, who filed the appeal on behalf of the city, spoke first.
“Cellphones, they became virtual appendages for most of us,” Allington said.
He argued that cellphones “proliferated so quickly in our lives” that the city simply created an ordinance that was in line with what its citizens wanted—less distracted drivers on the road.
Idaho recognized distracted driving in 2012 when the Legislature passed code Title 49-1401A, which prohibits the practice of texting while driving. The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2012, made texting while driving an infraction punishable by a fine of $81.50. Since then, a handful of cities in the state have created local ordinances that not only ban texting while driving, but ban any use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
Nelson argued that those ordinances, including the one in Hailey, conflict with state law because the city did not receive permission from the state, as required by Idaho code Title 49-206, which prohibits municipalities from enacting ordinances on motor-vehicle-related matters covered by state law “unless expressly authorized.”
But Allington argued that another state code, Title 49-207, states that municipalities are not prevented from creating “additional requirements” in relation to “speed, manner of driving or operating vehicles. …”
In the last legislative session, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, introduced a bill to ban the use of handheld mobile devices while driving, but it died in the Senate. Currently, Blaine County, Ketchum, Hailey and several other cities around the state have stricter city ordinances against handheld devices than does state law.