The Huntsville City Council passed a resolution last Thursday requesting the Alabama Legislature amend the state code to restore police discretion regarding how to handle misdemeanor offenses.
The resolution asked that law enforcement be allowed to "continue utilizing the summons and complaint procedure as an alternative to custodial arrest in certain circumstances permitted by Alabama Law."
Director of Communications for the city of Huntsville Kelly Schrimsher told 1819 News up until last year, Huntsville police were issuing paper citations for certain minor misdemeanors instead of making arrests. The city later learned a law had been passed in 2021 disallowing such discretion. According to that law, any municipality with a full-time magistrate judge must incarcerate misdemeanor offenders, while cities with only a part-time judge have the option of issuing a citation.
Schrimsher said the city has been working with State Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) to "rectify" the situation.
Schrimsher said it would save time and money for both the officer and the suspect by giving a paper citation for minor misdemeanor offenses instead of making an arrest.
"You're taking a police officer off the street for hours to book someone in jail who probably doesn't need to be in jail," she said. "A litter violation — they would have to be arrested and taken to jail."
But whether issued a citation or arrested, misdemeanors would still be treated the same regarding court proceedings and potential punishment.
"Whatever you've been charged with … that still continues," Schrimsher said. "You'll have a court date. None of the penalties change, just you don't immediately go to jail."
Some have viewed the resolution as the next step toward being more lenient on simple marijuana possession crimes. However, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said it does not address drug crimes.
"City of Huntsville administration is not considering a change in citations for drug-related offenses at this time," Battle said in a statement to 1819 News. "Our primary concern is to restore law enforcement's ability to issue citations for misdemeanors, as specified by law."
Schrimsher said the council has been discussing including minor drug-related crimes like possession of marijuana to the discretionary misdemeanor list. However, to do so, the council would need to amend the city's law at a later date following approval of the current resolution by the state legislature.
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