People v. Nelson
California Court of Appeal
200 Cal. App. 4th 1083, 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 856 (2011)
Carl Nelson (defendant) stopped his car for a red light, and while the car's engine idled, Nelson dialed his cellphone and placed it to his ear. Nelson put the cellphone down when a police officer drove up alongside Nelson's car. The officer cited Nelson for violating the state's distracted-driving statute, which prohibited "driving on a public roadway" while using a handheld cellphone. Nelson contested the citation, and the matter went to trial before a county traffic commissioner. The traffic commissioner found Nelson guilty of violating the statute, and the appellate division of the California Superior Court affirmed the conviction. Nelson then appealed to the California Court of Appeal. Nelson raised several hypothetical situations such as an hours-long traffic backup caused by a major crash, in which it would be absurd to allow a driver to apply makeup or eat a sandwich, but not to call his family to alert them to the situation. Nelson also cited Mercer v. Dept. of Motor Vehs., 809 P.2d 404 (1991), which held that the California drunk-driving law applies only to vehicles that are in motion. The state responded that the distracted-driving statute's legislative history clearly revealed a legislative intent to prevent drivers from "operating" their vehicles while using handheld cellphones.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Lambden, J.)
Concurrence (Richman, J.)
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