In People v. Spriggs ___ Cal. App. 4th ___ (2014) (Fifth Appellate District, filed 2/27/14), a driver who was using a map application on his cell phone while stopped at a red light was given a ticket for violating California Vehicle Code Section 23123, subdivision (a). Mr. Steven Spriggs objected to this citation and tried to defend himself in Superior Court by claiming that the statute did not apply to his use of his cell phone to use a map application. The trial court disagreed and convicted him for violating Section 23123(a). Mr. Spriggs appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court but it upheld his conviction. Mr. Spriggs next appealed to the California Court of Appeal. The Fifth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal agreed with Mr. Spriggs’ interpretation of the statute and reversed his conviction in its opinion on February 27, 2014.
This case deals fundamentally with interpreting whether the language in Section 23123(a) prohibits all use of a hand-held device while driving or merely calling and receiving calls without using a hands-free service. Specifically, the statute prohibits the use of a wireless phone while driving “unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.” Mr. Spriggs asserted that by speaking of “listening and talking”, the legislature narrowed the applicability of the statute to only the making and receiving of calls on a hand-held device without a hands-free attachment. The prosecution interpreted the statute to indicate that the legislature prohibited all uses of a hand-held device while driving except for “hands-free listening and talking.” The trial court agreed with the prosecution’s interpretation of the statute and convicted Mr. Spriggs. The Appellate Court did not agree and reversed.
The Appellate Court stated that the prosecution’s interpretation had some merit. Yet the Court held that the most reasonable understanding of the statute is Mr. Spriggs’ which is that Section 23123(a) only prohibits the use of the telephone to engage in conversation while holding the phone. The Court reasoned that if the legislature had wanted to proscribe the use of the “telephone” for anything other than hands-free use, then it would have used more comprehensive language than “hands-free listening and talking.” Moreover, the Court looked at the legislative history of the statute and found that the legislators’ primary concern was to prevent people from having conversations on a cell phone without using some type of hands-free technology. Finally, the Court did a comparison to more recently passed statutes that were related to the same issue and found that they further reinforced the Court’s thinking.
Therefore, in California, people are not prohibited from using applications on their phone while driving, except for making or receiving calls while holding their cell phone. Please continue to come to our blog for more information about current legal news.
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