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SCOTT M. REDDIE WINS APPEAL IN VEHICLE CELL PHONE USE CASE

Friday, February 28, 2014

In a published opinion, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fifth District Court of Appeal has concluded that the California Vehicle Code only prohibits a driver from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it.  The statute does not apply to other uses of a wireless telephone, including looking at a map application.  In so holding the court agreed with briefs filed by McCormick Barstow partner Scott M. Reddie, a State Bar-certified specialist in appellate law.

The case began when Steven R. Spriggs, while stopped in heavy traffic, pulled out his wireless telephone to check a map application for a way around the congestion.  A CHP officer spotted him, pulled him over, and issued him a traffic citation for violating Vehicle Code section 23123(a), which prohibits drivers from “using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”

Spriggs fought the ticket in traffic court, arguing that the statute only applied to “listening and talking” on the cell phone, not other uses such as looking at a map application.  The traffic court commissioner convicted Spriggs, concluding that the statute applied to all non-hands-free uses of a wireless telephone.  That conviction was upheld by a three-judge panel of the Fresno County Superior Court.  Although Spriggs had no right to an automatic further appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed to take the case in light of the important statewide issue involved. 

In preparing the briefs on appeal, Mr. Reddie reviewed and analyzed more than 2,000 pages of legislative history regarding the various cell phone related statutes in order to determine the intent behind the enactment of the statute.  The Court of Appeal also analyzed the legislative history, which Mr. Reddie provided to the Court.  In the end, the Court of Appeal agreed with Spriggs that section 23123(a) was only meant to prohibit listening and talking on a cell phone, not other uses.  Therefore, the court overturned his conviction.

It is unclear at this stage whether the Attorney General will file a petition for review with the California Supreme Court.

Last Updated Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 01:32 PM.