Negligent operation and texting-while-driving charges were formally lodged against 25 year-old Kyle Beard in the Quincy District Court last week. I say "formally lodged" because the events that gave rise to the charges occurred back in December. The delay tells me that the police did not arrest Beard back then, but applied for a complaint and requested a hearing before a Quincy District Court Clerk Magistrate. Obviously, the magistrate found enough evidence to issue the Complaint .
I came across this little story in the Plymouth Patch. I write about it because it illustrates some issues with regard to the Anti-Texting law (part of the so-called "Safe Driving Law") that is coming up on its second anniversary at the end of the month. The article says that Beard was driving his Jeep Cherokee on Commercial Street in Weymouth and allegedly crossed the center line into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, there was no crash, but unfortunately for Beard, a Weymouth police officer was coming the other way. That officer said that he had to "turn sharply" to avoid a head-on crash. When they pulled Beard over, the police saw a cell phone on his lap and he allegedly told them that it rang as he drove and he crossed the line as he looked at it. (Another example of making their case with your words).
The first and most obvious question is: "How are Beard's actions a violation of the no-texting statute?" The statute makes it a civil violation to use a cell phone to "compose, send, or read an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle." Did the magistrate interpret this language to mean you are not allowed to look at your ringing phone without being involved in illegal "texting?" According to the story, Beard did not even say that he was checking the caller ID on the cell phone. Even if he were, it seems to be a stretch to define this as texting. In any event, if he is found responsible, he will have to pay a $100 fine for a first offense (2d offense - 250; 3d offense -- $500).
Obviously, the texting charge is not Beard's main problem. It does, however, have an important link to the charge of negligent operation, which carries criminal penalties and a potential loss of license. For the prosecution to prove that Beard was negligent, it must prove that he failed to act reasonably under the circumstances. If he were illegally texting, then he was likely acting unreasonably. If his glance at his phone is not texting, then the question becomes: "Is it unreasonable to look at a ringing phone while driving?" I think not. One with an opposing view might ask: "What about crossing into the other lane?" My response: "Not every misstep is a crime."
If you have been charged with a motor vehicle offense, or any other crime, you should have your case evaluated by an experienced criminal defense attorney. I have been defending criminal cases for over 20 years, so I am well prepared to assist you.
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The facts used in this blog were obtained solely from the cited source(s). There may be additional information that would alter the analysis.