By on February 28, 2019

(One of the above items is not like the other…)

Sometimes the most innocent actions can get you in trouble with the law, like the Maryland mother accused of using opiates because she ate a poppy seed bagel the morning she gave birth. A Connecticut man is challenging his conviction on a charge of distracted driving, claiming he was eating a McDonalds hash brown, not talking on his cellphone. No, this isn’t anything like Dan White’s supposed Twinkie Defense — the guy sounds like he has a legitimate case.

On April 11, 2018, Jason Stiber was pulled over in Westport. Westport PD Corporal Shawn Wong alleged that Stiber was talking on his cellphone while driving. Wong later told a magistrate that Stiber was holding a phone near his face and that his lips were moving. Stiber said the officer mistook his food for a phone. The magistrate apparently believed that Wong was right (sorry, I had to), and convicted Stiber of distracted driving, fining him $300.

Stiber represented himself at that proceeding, but Connecticut law provides for appeals of Magistrates’ rulings in front of an actual trial judge — and for that trial, Mr. Stiber engaged John Thygerson Esq., to plead his case. NBC News reports that fighting the case has already cost Stiber $1,000.

Last Friday, Stiber and Thygerson were in Judge Maureen Dennis’ court arguing their case. Thygerson told NBC following the trial, “I have done nothing but criminal defense for 21 years and I have a very sensitive nose for lying clients. I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that I firmly believe my client 100 percent.”

Cpl. Wong repeated his testimony, saying that he is sure Stiber was speaking into a phone, and not eating. “The cop says he saw my client’s lips moving — my client’s lips were moving because he was chewing on his hash brown,” Thygerson said.

The defense wasn’t just asking the judge to believe that he was munching down on breakfast; they say they have phone records that indicate Stiber wasn’t on the phone at the time, along with actual physical evidence — a receipt from McDonalds for a caramel frappe and a hash brown bought that very morning. Stiber’s car is also equipped with Bluetooth and has hands-free cellphone operation. Even if he was talking on the phone when the officer spotted him, Thygerson pointed out to the judge, there was no need for Stiber to handle his phone.

Thygerson seems to have represented his client vigorously, but I wonder if he knows about how much data a modern car retains that could possibly have been used for the defense. The infotainment system on my Honda certainly keeps track of calls I’ve made or taken in the car, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a digital record of whether or not the hands-free tech was used for those calls.

Either way, Stiber sounds like he has a case. I’m sure some people will think his actions are foolish, spending a thousand bucks to overturn a $300 fine. To me he sounds like a man of principle. Sure, eating behind the wheel can probably be as distracting as talking on the phone, but that’s not against the law. Can’t a man enjoy his breakfast in peace? “He’s fighting this because he didn’t do anything wrong,” attorney Thygerson said.

Judge Dennis is expected to rule in this matter by April 5.

[Image source: McDonald’s, LG]

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26 Comments on “Connecticut Driver Contends Alleged Cellphone Was McDonalds Hash Brown...”

  • avatar

    Giving up and paying the $300 could lead to a domino effect. Higher insurance, perhaps a later citation for speeding or failure to stop causing enough on the DMV record to be real trouble.
    And there’s the obvious that because a law enforcement officer says they saw someone doing something that does not mean they were doing it.

  • avatar

    It’s important that cases like this are brought forward and fought. These cities make millions of dollars on false charges knowing full well that most of us will pay the fine because a lawyer is more expensive. But for a more serious offense like this, your insurance rates can take a big hit. It can be worth fighting it to keep your record clean.

    It also is going to lead to one sorry officer forever being “that guy” on the force who pulled someone over for talking on his hashbrown. He’ll never live that down if Stiber wins this case, and that is a nice consolation prize.

  • avatar

    Connecticut sucks. Enough said.

  • avatar

    In NY the case law pretty much reads “touch it and die”. If a cop sees it in your hand it’s a rebuttable presumption that it is in use. It used to be that you got a cell ticket and could beat it by showing your bill and you weren’t “on the phone”. Later they re wrote the law for portable mobile device, and ANY use, even pressing the button to voice command Siri, was using the phone.

    Having said that, I get really annoyed when I sit at a stoplight, the light goes green, and nothing happens….you can see “eyes down” in the cars ahead rearview mirrors. Likewise, the guy in the left land going 15 under traffic speed because he’s on the phone…and THAT CAR HAS BLUETOOTH……..but the person can’t/won’t use handsfree.

    IThis gets important because in some places a cell phone ticket is more points than speed or tailgate….and I agree that a cell phone driver can be way worse than a mildly drunk person….

  • avatar

    Westport——keeping the nation’s plutocrats safe.

  • avatar

    I can see the confusion. Both items contain a similar level of grease.

  • avatar

    Ontario has rather broadly defined distracted driving laws, so yes, here you could actually be charged for eating a hashbrown.

    • 0 avatar

      True….in Ottawa, the local police have been known to dress as construction workers, school crossing guards and even hide in the backs of school buses to catch people on their mobile phones.

      The articles illustrates a valid point….driving while talking on a phone is a ticket but eating while driving is not. Aren’t both distraction? How about messing with the radio, climate controls, fetching sunglasses out of the centre console….etc, etc Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that to happen but it shows how silly and arbitrary these types of laws can be. Don’t get me started on Ontario’s ridiculous “street racing” penalties for 50 KM/H over…

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, thinking and feeling can be the most distracting and dangerous things you can do when driving. And there’s not much outward sign that you are doing them. Which actually raises an interesting point – shouldn’t some sort of extended observation be a REQUIREMENT for a distracted driving conviction?

  • avatar

    Subpoena the phone records? Is this that hard?

  • avatar

    I’ve read that Illinois has the highest cellphone-using driver scofflaw rate in the US. I see it constantly. Even the cops do it! Also, I really really love McDonald’s hash browns.

  • avatar

    I don’t believe the Maryland mother. Poppy seeds on a bagel or a hamburger bun won’t make you fail a drug test.

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      Poppy seeds do provide what we call a pending test result in the opiates during a drug test.As a drug tested and drug testing supervisor I have found this uncommon.

      There is no positive result, we can only have a positive from a lab.

      The sample is sent to a lab which can determine what opiate (including Poppy seeds) was in the system.

      • 0 avatar

        All of which is absolutely correct, a split sample with gas chromatography will give an exact result as to the substance and quantity. The problem in the real world is often you get the “dip strip” test, and the confirmation test is another dip strip…..most places that test do so on the cheap, save the military and some transportation providers. Most probation departments are 99% don’t fail a whiz test and the strip is the extent of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Having a poppy seed danish will definitely show up on your normal run of the mill multi drug test as “Opiate”.

  • avatar

    “A cop said he saw it at a glance” is not “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    Screw all of that nonsense.

  • avatar

    Kendahl, it is true.

  • avatar

    How are police and local governments going to make money when self-driving cars rule the world? No speeding, no distracted driving, no reckless driving, no DUI = no fine revenue.

  • avatar

    It seems to me that, with video surveillance running 24/7 from cop cars and from devices cops carry with them, a “distracted driving” charge should require that the cop show video footage of the driver driving in a distracted way. In fact, before going to court, the cop should share the footage with the perpetrator — that alone would cause 90% of the valid “distracted driving” cases to NOT go to court.

  • avatar

    “Here’s your problem”:

    Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Salt, Corn Flour, Dehydrated Potato, Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Extractives of Black Pepper. *Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients

    Contains: WHEAT, MILK.
    Cooked in the same fryer that we use for Donut Sticks which contain a wheat and milk allergen.

  • avatar
    David Mc Lean

    I see a market for phone cases shaped like Big Macs. There is always someone ready to fill a need in a marketplace.

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