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The Seventh Circuit Favors Illinois’ Hands-Free Statute Over Indiana’s No-Texting Statute

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently took issue with Indiana’s no-texting statute, explaining that Illinois’ “hands-free” statute was more sensible and effective.

Indiana statutorily prohibits drivers from texting while driving. All other cellphone use, however, is permitted. This includes making phone calls, consulting directions, reading news, playing music, playing games, and even watching television.

In the case at issue, an Indiana law enforcement officer noticed defendant Gregorio Paniagua-Garcia (Paniagua) holding a cellphone while driving on the highway. The officer believed Paniagua was texting. Paniagua denied that he was texting and instead explained he was looking for music to play. And in fact the evidence showed that Paniagua’s phone was not used to send a text message at the time in question.

The officer pulled over Paniagua and received his consent to search the vehicle. In searching, the officer discovered concealed heroin. Paniagua was charged federally with possession. While the police officer admitted that he wrongfully believed that Paniagua had been texting, the district court found that the officer’s reasonable belief that Paniagua was texting was sufficient to stand a Fourth Amendment challenge.

Paniagua pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time in prison. He appealed the lower court’s denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the heroin had been discovered by an illegal stop. The government conceded that the traffic stop was in fact a seizure and therefore the officer needed probable cause to believe that a traffic violation had occurred or reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot to comport with the Fourth Amendment.

In finding for Paniagua, the Seventh Circuit first noted that almost all of the lawful uses of cellphones excepted from the statute’s reach look virtually the same as texting from the officer’s viewpoint. Therefore nothing observable to a police officer glancing into a car would enable an officer to determine whether it was a permitted or an unlawful use of the cellphone.

The appeals court therefore concluded that the government failed to establish that the officer had probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that Paniagua was violating the no-texting law. The officer hadn’t seen any texting. What he observed was consistent with any one of a number of lawful uses of the cellphone. If the government was able to prevail on the mere possibility of unlawful use, police could always search a random driver for guns or drugs without a warrant and without reasonable suspicion. Citing Seventh Circuit precedent, the court emphasized that suspicion so broad that it allows the police to stop a significant portion of the lawfully driving public is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The court recognized that the Indiana legislature was rightfully concerned about the dangers of cellphone use while driving, but was wrong to outlaw only texting. To divide drivers’ cellphone use in this way, the court admonished, made the statute largely ineffective. Specifically, the court noted the near impossibility of distinguishing texting from other uses of cellphones by looking through the window of a moving car. The court noted the differences in the enforcement of Illinois’ more sensible “hands-free” law, which prohibits drivers from using a cellphone with their hands, but permits Bluetooth and other hands-free devices. In 2013, it explained that while only 186 citations were issued for violations of the Indiana law, over 6700 citations were issued in Illinois for violations of the more logical Illinois law. After citing this powerful statistic, the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appeals Court Holds Guilty Plea Waives Non-jurisdictional Defects, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, March 8, 2016.

Illinois Appellate Court Holds Reasonable Suspicion Justifies Traffic Stop, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, March 1, 2016.

Illinois Appellate Court Upholds DWLS Because Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, February 12, 2016.

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