A judge’s ruling on a case involving Hailey’s ban on cell phone use while driving could end up in the Idaho Supreme Court, affecting several such laws around the state.
A debate about city ordinance versus state law was ignited when a woman was pulled over in Hailey on the premise that she was talking on her cell phone, an infraction under city ordinance. The case grew to a misdemeanor probation violation when it was found the woman did not have driving privileges.
As part of a motion to suppress evidence, defense attorney Doug Nelson submitted a memorandum to the court dated Aug. 23 contending 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.”
Fifth District Magistrate Judge Daniel Dolan granted the motion on Oct. 16, after hearing arguments from both sides. Hailey’s prosecuting attorney, Rick Allington, said in a phone interview that the city is appealing the decision to District Court, and he does not think the case will stop there, but that it could go all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court.
“The city disagrees with the judge’s interpretation of the law,” he said.
Idaho law does not ban talking on a cell phone while driving, though it bans texting while operating a vehicle.
The city of Ketchum approved an ordinance in April 2016 to ban the use of handheld electronic devices while driving, joining only one other city in Idaho at the time, Sandpoint, which had enacted such a ban five years earlier. Hailey soon followed, implementing its ordinance in September 2016, followed by Blaine County, which started enforcing its ordinance last summer. Other cities in Idaho are implementing similar ordinances. They include Idaho Falls, whose city council voted in October to ban handheld cell phone use while driving, and Pocatello, which enacted a similar ordinance Dec. 6.
In February, the Idaho Legislature voted 13-22 against a bill that would have prohibited operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device. Dolan’s oral opinion states that the city’s ordinance does in fact contradict state law.
“[W]e’re dealing only with the City of Hailey ordinance at this time,” Dolan stated in an oral ruling. “The other ordinances from the county and the City of Ketchum are not before me … [though] what I’m about to say in this case probably affects all three.
“And so what I would find is that this cell phone ordinance for the City of Hailey is contrary to state law. …”
Allington said that at this time it is still possible for someone to get pulled over for talking on his or her cell phone, but more than likely if the ticket is appealed, the case would be put on hold until the legality of the ordinance is decided. According to court records, the appeal was filed on Oct. 24, but Allington said a decision in District Court will likely not be made until spring.