Huntsville taking steps to avoid arrests on some minor marijuana charges | Turn 420
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Huntsville taking steps to avoid arrests on some minor marijuana charges



The city of Huntsville is moving closer to avoiding arresting suspects on minor marijuana charges.

In a procedural move at last week’s meeting, the council voted to pass a resolution to the state legislature to ask for a local law that would permit an array of misdemeanor charges to be made through citations — or tickets — rather than arrests. That change could affect how police handle people charged with a personal use amount of marijuana possession.

Related: Huntsville considers tickets, rather than arrests for marijuana possession

Before the change could go into effect, the legislature must pass what’s described as local legislation that would cover only Madison County and no other parts of the state.

The reason for resolution, sponsored by Councilman Devyn Keith, is to allow Huntsville to function like most of the state when it comes to handling misdemeanor cases within the framework of a 2021 law passed by the legislature. That law said that only towns and cities that do not have full-time municipal judges could use citations, rather than arrests, when certain misdemeanor crimes are charged.

Huntsville, with its three full-time judges, does not have that leeway of using citations. The law also provides for cities to seek local legislation to receive the flexibility of using citations rather than arrests.

In a presentation to the council, Huntsville attorney David Canupp said that both Lonzo Robinson, the presiding city judge in Huntsville, and DeWayne McCarver, deputy police chief, were in favor of the seeking the local legislation. Council President John Meredith also said that he had talked with police officers “of every rank” in Huntsville and all he spoke with favored the citation process.

In many instances, Canupp said, the city has been issuing citations for some misdemeanors already. That does not include personal possession of marijuana charges.

“This decreases the amount of money a person spends to go through the process but it doesn’t make anything legal,” Keith said. “It takes (away) the burden of losing your car, (reduces) the burden of the court cost. It takes the burden away from the police officer. This is just the first step. This addresses everything from trash litter to misdemeanor marijuana possession.”

Indeed, according to the resolution, a person could be arrested for offenses such as “littering, violation of the leash law, failing to obtain a business license, hand-billing in violation of the city code or failing to return a library book.”

The requested local legislation does not change laws. Violations would still be prosecuted in the same manner – just without the custodial arrest as part of the process. As Keith mentioned, however, citations would reduce the financial cost for violators. At a city council work session in April where the idea of seeking local legislation was discussed, Robinson – the municipal judge – said that court costs are about $75 less for those issued citations rather than those taken into custody.

At that work session, Deputy Police Chief McCarver said a misdemeanor marijuana arrests takes a police officer off the street for about two hours.

Huntsville city attorney Trey Riley made clear at the April work session that the new law would not decriminalize marijuana but would remove punitive steps that could result in the loss of a job if a defendant could not afford to be bailed out of jail. And the new law would eliminate in those misdemeanor cases the public embarrassment of having their name and mugshot posted on the Madison County jail website.

“I call it almost like a phantom prosecution before we even get to the issue of whether someone is guilty or innocent of the charge,” Riley said at the work session. “They have already suffered all of these punitive elements. And that’s I think the thing this type of arrangement that we’re discussing is designed to combat — to allow that injustice to be corrected, especially when you’re dealing with more minor offenses and offenses that do not involve danger to the public that would necessitate custodial arrest.” reporter Ashley Remkus contributed to this report.

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