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People of the State of California v. Steven R. Spriggs

March 21, 2013

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
STEVEN R. SPRIGGS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Fresno County, Jeffrey Bird, Commissioner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. W. Kent Hamlin, Judge

OPINION

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Public concern about the dangers of distracted driving has led to legislation that limits the use of cellular phones and electronic communications devices while driving. The drive behind this legislation was the concern about the interference with the driver's attention caused by the physical aspects of using these devices. This case requires us to determine whether using a wireless phone solely for its map application function while driving violates Vehicle Code section 23123.*fn1 We hold that it does.

On January 5, 2012, appellant Steven R. Spriggs was cited for violating section 23123, subdivision (a), driving a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone. Trial was held on April 26, 2012. California Highway Patrol Officer Jack Graham and appellant each testified that, while driving, appellant was cited for looking at a map on his cellular phone while holding the phone in his hand. The question is whether appellant's conduct violates section 23123, subdivision (a).

Section 23123, subdivision (a) provides:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while 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.

When the underlying facts are undisputed, issues of statutory construction are subject to independent review on appeal. (Regents of Univ. of California v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal. 4th 509, 531; People v. Cardwell (2102) 203 Cal.App.4th 876, 882.) In undertaking to interpret the words of a statute, the court ascertains the Legislature's intent by "follow[ing] the statute's plain meaning, if such appears, unless doing so would lead to absurd results the Legislature could not have intended." (Garcetti v. Superior Court (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 1113, 1119, internal citations omitted.) The words of the statute itself must be given "a plain and commonsense meaning unless the statute specifically defines the words to give them a special meaning." (People v. Nelson (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1083, 1098, internal quotes omitted.)

"Nevertheless, the 'plain meaning' rule does not prevent a court from determining whether the literal meaning of the statute comports with its purpose. [Citations.] Thus, although the words used by the Legislature are the most useful guide to its intent, we do not view the language of the statute in isolation. [Citation.] Rather, we construe the words of the statute in context, keeping in mind the statutory purpose. [Citation.] We will not follow the plain meaning of the statute 'when to do so would "frustrate[ ] the manifest purposes of the legislation as a whole or [lead] to absurd results." ' [Citations.] Instead, we will ' "interpret legislation reasonably and ... attempt to give effect to the apparent purpose of the statute." ' " [Citation].) (Ibid.)

The statute prohibits driving "while using a wireless telephone," except when the phone is "specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving." (§ 23123, subd. (a), emphasis added). The term "using" is nowhere defined in the statute, but if the Legislature had intended to limit the application of the statute to "conversing" or "listening and talking," as appellant maintains, it could have done so.

Our review of the statute's plain language leads us to conclude that the primary evil sought to be avoided is the distraction the driver faces when using his or her hands to operate the phone. That distraction would be present whether the wireless telephone was being used as a telephone, a GPS navigator, a clock or a device for sending and receiving text messages and emails. But to the extent the language of the statute may be otherwise interpreted, the court must resolve any ambiguity.

An ambiguity exists when words in a statute "are capable of being construed in two different ways by reasonably well informed people." (People v. Bostick (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 287, 295 (conc. opn. by Kline, P.J.).) "Courts may look to legislative history to construe a statute only when the statutory language is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation." (Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Com. (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 86, 92.) The court can take judicial notice of prior versions of the bill that the Legislature considered as well as related legislative committee analysis. (Sabbah v. Sabbah (2007)151 Cal.App.4th 818, 824.)

The Assembly analysis of Senate Bill 1613 provides information about the intent of the law. The Assembly analysis noted:

The author argues that, although hands-free devices do not eliminate the distraction a driver may face when talking on a cell phone, it is crucial to improve reaction time in the event of an ...


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