Driver wins 13-month distracted driving legal battle over hashbrown

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Jason Stiber, a 45-year-old man from Connecticut, has won a 13-month legal battle over a distracted driving citation that stemmed from the consumption of a McDonald’s hashbrown. Stiber received the ticket in 2018 for allegedly using a cell phone while driving; though the citation would have resulted in a $300 fine, Stiber maintained his innocence and chose to fight the accusation.

Stiber received the citation on April 11, 2018, according to the Washington Post. The officer who pulled Stiber over claimed the driver was using his cell phone, but Stiber says he was merely eating a McDonald’s hashbrown. Though the cost of fighting the citation was higher than the fine he would have paid otherwise, the distracted driving allegation won’t appear on his driving record.

According to WaPo, the officer who gave Stiber the citation claims he ‘clearly’ saw the driver talking into a black cell phone while driving. This clear memory allegedly includes an illuminated object and Stiber’s lips moving while the object was held near his face. That lip movement, according to Stiber’s attorney, was the simple act of chewing a hashbrown.

Some evidence was presented to backup that claim, including phone records that show a lack of calls at the time Stiber was pulled over; it was also pointed out that Stiber’s vehicle had hands-free Bluetooth technology for taking calls without physically holding a handset.

As well, a FOIA request demonstrated that the officer who issued the citation was on the 15th hour of a 16-hour shift when he pulled Stiber over. This exceedingly long shift, the argument went, may have impacted the officer’s ability to accurately judge whether he was witnessing a phone conversation or the consumption of a hashbrown.

The judge ultimately sided with Stiber, concluding that the state wasn’t able to prove that Stiber was using his cell phone when he was pulled over. While a great victory for Stiber, it also highlights a potential issue with how these issues are handled: he successfully avoided having the violation applied to his driving record, but it cost him four days of work, lawyer fees, and two different trials.

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