A 5th District judge has ruled that Hailey’s cellphone ordinance is not in conflict with state law and is therefore valid, reversing a decision made by a 5th District magistrate judge in October.
The Magistrate Court decision led to Hailey’s prosecuting attorney, Rick Allington, appealing the decision to District Court, where oral arguments were heard on June 18.
The case resulted from an incident in March 2018 in Hailey, when a Hailey woman was pulled over within city limits for talking on her cellphone, an infraction. The woman was then charged with misdemeanor driving without privileges when police discovered she did not have a valid driver’s license.
Idaho recognized distracted driving in 2012 when the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting texting while driving. Since then, a handful of cities in the state, including Hailey, have created local ordinances that not only ban texting while driving but also any use—which would include talking—of handheld electronic devices while driving.
In the last legislative session, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, introduced a bill to ban the use of handheld mobile devices while driving statewide, but it died in the Senate.
The defendant’s attorney, Doug Nelson, argued in Magistrate Court that the city ordinance prohibiting talking while driving was invalid because state law does not include such a prohibition on its list of additional restrictions that cities are authorized to enact. Nelson contended that as a result, the ordinance was invalid and his client was stopped without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe she was driving contrary to the law.
Fifth District Magistrate Judge Daniel Dolan accepted that argument and granted a motion to suppress evidence on Oct. 16. Following the hearing, Allington said he believed the case could go all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court.
In an 11-page memorandum filed July 18—exactly one month after oral arguments were heard in District Court—5th District Judge Jonathan Brody reversed the Magistrate Court decision, finding that Idaho law authorizes cities to enact additional restrictions beyond those set by the state, and does not preclude the kind of restriction placed on driving by the Hailey ordinance.
He stated that the Hailey ordinance would be invalid only if it were in direct conflict with a state statute. He concluded that the state law prohibiting texting does not regulate the same subject matter as does the Hailey ordinance.
Brody noted that state law precludes a city from prohibiting hand use of an electronic device merely to turn it on or off.
“However, this does not affect the outcome for the defendant here,” he ruled, because the woman was seen with the phone to her ear, directly defying the Hailey ordinance.
Brody’s remanded the case back to Magistrate Court “for proceedings consistent with this finding.”
Neither Allington nor Nelson were available for comment by deadline Thursday.