A Connecticut man is doubling down on his deep-fried defense after he was ticketed for distracted driving last year, recently telling local news outlets that he spent $1,000 on an attorney to help contest the $300 citation.
Jason Stiber’s argument is as straightforward as it is tasty: The officer who pulled him over on April 11 mistook the McDonald’s hash brown he was eating for a cellphone.
“I have never in my 21 years as a criminal defense lawyer — and that’s all I do — I have never seen such a minor case engender such disproportionate attention,” Stiber’s attorney, John Thygerson, told The Washington Post. “It’s a big deal to my client, but small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.”
Thygerson declined to confirm reports about the cost of his services but said he’s had a “boatload of clients that have elected to fight the hard fight because they believe they are right, rather than take the path of least resistance and pay a fine.”
For Stiber, the fight continues after he unsuccessfully represented himself in court last year, where a magistrate judge found him guilty, Thygerson said. He was back in court Friday as part of a requested retrial, where Thygerson laid out a multi-pronged defense to prove that his client was simply eating his breakfast.
Westport Police Cpl. Shawn Wong Won testified that he “clearly” saw Stiber speaking into a black cellphone while driving that fateful morning, according to the Hour. Won said in court that he saw Stiber holding an illuminated object the size of a cellphone up to his face while moving his lips.
Thygerson argued that Stiber’s lip movement was “consistent with chewing” the hash brown he’d ordered at McDonald’s moments earlier. Phone records show that Stiber was not having a conversation at the time he was pulled over, Thygerson said. His client’s car also has Bluetooth capabilities that allow him to talk without holding his phone.
“There is no reason for him to hold a phone to his mouth to talk when he has the hands-free device to turn it on automatically,” he said. “Even if you were to think he was on the phone, he wouldn’t need to hold a cellphone because his car is Bluetooth-enabled, and was on the date in question.”
Thygerson said prosecutors argued that even if Stiber wasn’t talking on the phone, Won saw him using it “in a manner that made using a vehicle unsafe” — such as texting — which would also explain the alleged illumination. But Thygerson said Won never testified that he saw Stiber speeding, swerving or driving erratically. His client also pulled over properly and had a hand on the wheel, he said.
“When people text, oftentimes people will drift, and that will be a basis for a stop,” Thygerson said. “There was nothing witnessed by the officer to support the thesis my client committed any motor vehicle violation.”
To augment their defense, Thygerson noted that Won was finishing the 15th hour of a 16-hour double shift when he pulled Stiber over, offering another reason that the officer may have confused the fried potato for a cellphone.
“My argument is simple: simple human error,” Thygerson said. “We all make mistakes.”
Thygerson notes that Stiber pleaded guilty after receiving a similar citation in the past and paid it without issue.
But now, as Stiber told SFGate last year, he’s “going to trial for justice.”
A judge will probably issue a verdict in the case before April 5, according to the Hour.