The Auburn City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that amends city code to close a loophole in existing state law and make it illegal for unwanted passengers to hop in your car under false pretenses.
The ordinance, requested by Municipal Court Judge James McLaughlin, puts Trespass to Motor Vehicles on the books. It makes it illegal for anyone to enter or attempt to enter a motor vehicle by force, misrepresentation or deception.
The ordinance was spurred by a litany of complaints about a local man who has been entering vehicles, mostly those of young college females, under false pretenses.
McLaughlin explained that he's been trying to deal with this issue for five or six months and that the "gentleman" has been getting into vehicles with college students by telling them his car has broken down and asking for a jump start.
"After several minutes, (they) realize there’s no vehicle. He’s just using them as his own personal Uber, if you will," he said. "He never puts his hands on anybody; he never threatens anybody, but you’ve got terrified college students with a gentleman in their car they can’t get rid of.
"Basically, they open the car door and he gets in the vehicle with them. At that point, he hasn’t broken any law that’s on the books, and as long as he doesn’t put his hands on them or threaten them he hasn’t broken a law. This will stop him from intimidating, physically or otherwise, these students and will give us a way to redress this and hopefully stop him from doing it."
McLaughlin noted that the man has been banned from "every grocery store and every gas station in the city," and if he were to trespass there he could land in county jail.
"All the trespass laws in the state of Alabama deal with real property and dwellings," he said. "I found four or five states that actually have a law similar to this to try to fix this loophole. Mainly, we’re just trying to keep our citizens, especially our college students, safe and prevent this from continuing to go on."
McLaughlin said the new ordinance could also help address people who “go around shaking door handles at night” and taking things out of unlocked vehicles.
“This will give the Public Safety Department another avenue to try to deal with that issue as opposed to having to take that out to the county and make it felony for breaking and entering," he said. "We think it’s a good way to stop several problems with one new ordinance."