Connecticut Driver Contends Alleged Cellphone Was McDonalds Hash Brown
(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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