When Bill Bouvier was stopped Dec. 29 in Hinesburg while driving home from work, he tried to explain to the young cop there had been a mistake.
Bouvier, 59, said he often rests his head in his cupped palm while making the drive home to Bristol.
He assured the police officer he hadn’t touched his cellphone since getting behind the wheel.
The officer was unpersuaded and issued a $162 ticket.
Bouvier says he hadn’t used the phone and appealed the citation.
He also requested records from AT&T, his wireless carrier which showed no calls had been made between 4:07 p.m. and 5:21 p.m. — nothing close to the time of the 4:30 p.m. traffic stop.
The hearing was scheduled last week in Burlington.
Bouvier took time off from work to be there. He says it lasted about five minutes.
Hearing officer Karen Bradley found Bouvier guilty as charged.
She could not accept the phone records as evidence, Bouvier recalled, as they might be doctored.
“Well, she is wrong about that,” Burlington defense attorney Brooks McArthur said Friday. “The evidence that’s admissible is the kind a reasonably prudent person would rely on in their everyday affairs. And certainly there’s nothing here to indicate he wasn’t a reasonably prudent person relying on his phone bill. So she should have allowed that into evidence.”
Bouvier says he left the hearing shaking his head. Now, the $162 fine had jumped to $217 with his appeal and court costs.
He said the court had taken the officer’s word, after refusing to hear his defense.
Actually, McArthur said, “This case does not appear to be his word against the officer’s. It appears to be his word corroborated by his phone records against the officer’s observation of him which can be mistaken. Officers can be mistaken at times.”
Lt. Garry Scott, the highway traffic safety officer at the Vermont State Police, agreed. He said he’s occasionally made a few.
Like an expired inspection sticker that turns out to be valid upon a closer look.
“Absolutely,” Scott said. “That’s why you want to be sure an electronic device is in their hand to activate the (traffic) stop.”
Scott said he, too, was surprised the hear the phone records hadn’t been enough to have the ticket dismissed.
Bouvier declined to appear on camera for the story, but produced all the documents relating to his case.
The traffic court was closed Friday.
Last week Bouvier said he paid the $217 fine and court fee to make the matter go away.
But McArthur said he might have appealed to a higher court and likely won the case.
“There is a defense, a legitimate defense, and he should have prevailed,” the former state prosecutor said.
In the first three months since Vermont’s new law took effect last October, police officers have issued 388 tickets — and 383 warnings for using a hand-held electronic device behind the wheel.