United States v. Paniagua-Garcia, No. 15-2540 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Indiana law forbids using a device to “text” or email while operating a vehicle, but allows other uses of a cell phone. A police officer, passing a car on an interstate highway, saw that the driver was holding a cellphone in his right hand, that his head was bent toward the phone, and that he “appeared to be texting.” Paniagua was not texting, but searching for music. An examination of his cell phone revealed that it had not been used to send a text message at the time. The officer received Paniagua’s permission to search the car and discovered five pounds of heroin concealed in the car’s trunk. After the court denied a motion to suppress, Paniagua pleaded guilty to possession of heroin intending to distribute it and was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. 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 saw behavior consistent with several lawful cell phone uses. The court speculated: Suppose the officer had observed Paniagua drinking from a cup, would the district court's reasoning justify stopping the driver for possible drunk driving?