Madison - St. Clair Record

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fifth District affirms conviction in distracted driving case where defendant was videotaping Wood River cops


By John Breslin | Mar 11, 2019

MOUNT VERNON -- A jury was correct in finding a defendant guilty of driving while improperly using an electronic device, the Fifth District Appellate Court has ruled.

William Rogers had asked the appeals court to overturn his conviction, arguing that there was insufficient evidence and it was contrary to his constitutional rights.

In a split 2-1 ruling, the three-justice panel found that neither of these arguments had merit, with Justice James Moore delivering the judgment, Justice John Barberis concurring and Justice Judy Cates dissenting.

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In his written judgment, Moore said the relevant statute states that a person must use a hands-free cell phone if they want to use the device while driving.

Further, Moore wrote that Rogers' argument for his conviction to be reversed due to insufficient evidence failed because it had to be "so unreasonable, improbable, or unsatisfactory as to justify a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt."

Rogers' third argument centered on the unconstitutionality of a code that he said limits the use of photographic devices in a public place. But Moore ruled that the law does not ban photography, but is designed to protect people on Illinois roads from the dangers of distracted driving.

Cates, in her dissent, argued there was insufficient evidence delivered at trial that showed beyond a reasonable doubt that Rogers was "guilty of using an electronic communication device while operating a motor vehicle on a roadway. She noted that the prosecutors put up only a single witness.

"Further, I would find that the statute as applied in defendant’s case is unconstitutionally vague," Cates added.

At Rogers' trial, officer John Hoefert of the Wood River Police Department testified that he was on school patrol checking traffic along East Edwardsville Road.

The officer told the court that he noticed Rogers, driving a gold Chrevolet Malibu, looking at him and another officer in a separate vehicle. Rogers "appeared to either be videotaping or photographing us while he was driving," Hoefert said, adding that the defendant’s behavior “was an obvious hazard to anybody that would have been in that area.”

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