A hash brown v. state of Connecticut
Sometimes, a hash brown is just a hash brown. Other times, it is behind the making of an unsung hero fighting for justice.
When people decide to hire an attorney, it’s typically because the cost of losing the case outweighs the cost of the lawyer. However, there are many unsung heroes who are willing to pay for what is right rather than worry about the return on investment. This is a tale of one those heroes, and it all revolves around the deadliest of driving distractions: a hash brown.
In April 2018, Westport, Conn., resident Jason Stiber was pulled over by police Cpl. Shawn Wong Won at approximately 6 a.m. Stiber did nothing wrong, or so he thought. The next thing he knew, he received a $300 distracted driving ticket for using his cellphone while driving.
But Stiber wasn’t on his phone. In fact, Stiber’s car has Bluetooth capability, which he uses for hands-free calls. Strange things were afoot.
Just before getting pulled over, Stiber went to McDonald’s, bought a hash brown, which he ate in his … wait a second. Did the cop think the hash brown Stiber put to his mouth was a cellphone?
In August 2018, Stiber decided to fight the $300 ticket. Before the court, he presented records of his phone activities for the time in question, which revealed no activity at all. Despite the compelling evidence, the magistrate judge found him guilty.
At this point, I would imagine many people would just throw up their hands and release their anger on social media. Not Stiber.
Stiber appears to have been a man on a mission.
The corporal may have won the battle, but the war was Stiber’s for the taking.
Undeterred, Stiber requested a retrial before the state superior court. This time around, he was coming armed with a lawyer. According to a Times Union story, at $1,000, the attorney cost the same amount as the increase in Stiber’s insurance as a result of the erroneous infraction.
During the lost battle, Stiber’s own weapon of phone records was of no use.
“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Indeed. Stiber and his attorney submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how distracted the officer was. They discovered that Cpl. Won was on hour 15 of his 16-hour shift when he pulled over Stiber. Could it be that Cpl. Won, tired and restless, was mistaken?
Recently, a Connecticut court ruled that the state did not meet its burden of proof. This time, Cpl. Won lost.
Stiber took one for the team. I like the cut of his jib, because I have found myself in a similar situation twice. Once, I was issued a speeding ticket when I knew I wasn’t speeding. I fought the ticket and the trial date was rescheduled by the city four times before they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble I was causing. After demanding the officer’s dash cam video anyway, I was told to not look a gift horse in the mouth. I picked up what they were laying down and walked away.
More recently, I spent hours upon hours digging up state regulations, creating maps and meeting with school officials just so I could get my stepson access to the school bus. I lost that one, but I fought.
The point here is that our justice system is flawed.
Also, the men and women enforcing the laws are human. They too are flawed and make mistakes like the rest of us. Unfortunately, too many of us simply do not have the time and resources to wage war over something trivial or relatively insignificant.
This is why people like Stiber are making a difference. He pulled up phone records, filed a FOIA request, hired an attorney, and went to an appellate court all because an officer mistook his hash brown for a phone and issued Stiber a $300 ticket. He obtained nuclear weapons for a fist fight.
“Stiber is relieved about the verdict but said the lengths he went to defend himself illustrate a greater problem in the justice system. He had to sit through two trials, miss four days of work and pay a lawyer to get the outcome he wanted – painstaking steps he says others shouldn’t be forced to take.
“‘That’s why I did it, because I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through this,’ he said. ‘Other people don’t have the means to defend themselves in the same way.’”
This unsung hero put principles before all else. Mr. Stiber, I salute you. LL