Can I contest a thousand-dollar parking ticket?
February 27, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Last week I was visiting San Francisco and using a borrowed car. I got a $996 fine for parking briefly in a handicap spot in front of a store on Hayes St. The spot was marked in blue on the ground, and there was a sign in front of it, but the sign was obscured by a tree. I didn't know blue indicated the spot was off-limits, I live in MA. I saw the sign too late, and it indicated the minimum fine was $250.

The ticket has all the identifying information correct, but is missing the VIN, probably because the car was vintage and the VIN wasn't in the usual place.

Should I try to contest this ticket?

Can I use the fact the VIN is missing to my advantage? If not, is there any hope that I might get a lower fine if I request a hearing? I can not show up in person, so it would have to be done by mail.
posted by Dragonness to Law & Government (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Can I use the fact the VIN is missing to my advantage?

No. You can not do this. You can not contest a ticket because they said your car was "gray" and not "silver". You can not contest the ticket because the ticket says "9:18PM" but you saw the cop writing it at 9:20. You can not contest the ticket because of any other immaterial reason. People always want to do this and it does not matter at all. This is how that will go:

You: "but the VIN line is blank!"
Court: "So? You still parked there."
You: "Yes, but..."
Court: "You parked there. Pay the ticket."

They also will not let you off because you didn't know what the rules were.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel for you, but I grew up in Massachusetts and blue always indicated a handicapped spot there too. You were careless and unlucky. You did break the rules, and not being aware of them isn't an excuse.

That said, it looks like protesting the fine would cost you nothing and has no chance of increasing the amount you'd have to pay.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:59 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Since you acknowledge that you parked in the handicapped spot, you're going to be on the hook for the fine. You might consider appearing in person and see if the fine might be reduced a bit, owing to your ignorance of local laws (the blue zone.)

I doubt it will work, because cities depend on this income stream, but it's really your only option for getting some relief.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:01 PM on February 27, 2013


Looking at the SFMTA site, the fine for parking in the blue zone without the appropriate disabled placard is indeed $966 as of July 2012. (PDF)
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2013


My experience with this (though it was in MA) was that if you request a hearing, it's basically up to the whim of the judge you're assigned to. In my own case, I just sort of stammered out that it didn't feel like ninety miles an hour, and I think owing to a lack of previous tickets, the judge knocked it down from a hundred and change to sixty or so.

So yes, you can request a hearing, and if it's granted you can tell them that the sign wasn't visible and you didn't know that blue meant handicapped. Will that work? Honestly, probably not, but as Wretch729 says, it won't cost anything and it can't make the fine worse.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's a recent thread on a local blog giving advice and some background on the fine.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:08 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in Mass for a while and gotta call shenanigans on your claim to ignorance of where the handicapped spots are; blue lines or blue signs always indicated handicapped spots out there, though I guess technically it's true that they don't usually bother to paint the curbs.

And I will tell you, I have had the opportunity to hang around the SF traffic court a fair amount, and while it's technically true that contesting your ticket doesn't cost anything, you should expect to wait in line at least 2-3 hours for your hearing, most of it standing up (sitting if you're very lucky), in a crowded hallway with poor cell phone reception.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 12:09 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Request a hearing and bring photographic evidence of the obscured sign. Hope the judge is lenient.
posted by dobi at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've contested parking tickets in Alameda County, and let me tell you, they don't play.

The one we heard the most was about the car pool lane going over the bay bridge. Each and every person said, "I didn't see the sign until the cop pulled me over." There was no mercy or any reduction at all. The judge was not sympathetic. I suspect it will be even more so in San Francisco and in a handicapped space.

That really sucks. Perhaps there's a payment plan? At least call the court clerk and see what can be done.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2013


Thank you for the suggestions. Good idea to call the court clerk.
posted by Dragonness at 12:13 PM on February 27, 2013


Blue indicates a parking space reserved for the disabled anywhere I've ever lived, Boston/Worcester included.

The obscured sign is probably your best hope, but I don't think it's going to convince a judge. I'm not sure it's possible to contest a ticket without showing up in person to the hearing, though.

I've successfully contested a parking ticket in San Francisco for a broken meter, so it's not completely impossible.

And if you're ever trying to park in Hayes Valley again--you can pretty much always assume that any open parking space is too good to be true.
posted by jesourie at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding that you should take a picture of the tree obscuring the sign. That seems like the one thing that might get you some leniency. The "I'm from Massachusetts" bit, not so much.
posted by alms at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2013


The spot was marked in blue on the ground, and there was a sign in front of it, but the sign was obscured by a tree. I didn't know blue indicated the spot was off-limits, I live in MA.

What color are handicapped spots painted in Massachusetts? I suspect the same shade of blue, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you parked in a handicapped spot when you had no right to do so. "I don't know what a blue parking spot means because I am from Massachusetts" is the same as "I didn't know the speed limit, officer".

IAAL, IANYL, TINLA.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You might think twice about using the "I didn't know" logic. The symbol that marked the spot is the International Symbol of Access, and handicap areas are marked with this symbol as a result of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. So, in Massachusetts, too, and a judge is likely to know this.
posted by Houstonian at 1:03 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Massachusetts the handicapped spots are painted with a BLUE outline of a wheelchair or just BLUE. I'm not buying that you weren't aware what the blue paint meant. This, plus the fact that you mention that you parked there "briefly" says that you probably thought you could run in quickly without getting caught.

"Briefly" doesn't matter when a person with a disability comes along and can't find a parking space.

Pay the ticket.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:07 PM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


One more note -- apparently this is THE most expensive ticket you can get in San Francisco. Here is a news article about it -- more expensive than parking on the steps of City Hall or even parking on railroad tracks. So, they are taking abuse of handicap parking spots very seriously, which makes me think it's unlikely they'll waive the fine.
posted by Houstonian at 1:15 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been all over the continental US and blue curbs are universal for handicapped spaces.

I say suck it up and pay.
posted by brujita at 1:30 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can not contest a ticket because they said your car was "gray" and not "silver" . . . People always want to do this and it does not matter at all.

I don't know if this is true in the jurisdiction that issued the ticket, but in New York City, a defective ticket is supposed to result in a dismissal. From the website of the NYC Dep't of Finance, the agency that issues and adjudicates parking tickets: "A ticket is not valid when the legally required information on it is missing or not accurate. When you request a hearing, we will review the ticket for these defects and dismiss it if any are found." I would research the ordinances of the ticketing jurisdiction for similar policies, as well as the legal necessity for a parking ticket there to state the VIN.

I have had my own NYC parking tickets dismissed for incorrect information. The blank spaces on a parking ticket are not there to keep meter maids occupied. Police fill in those blanks to connect an illegally parked car to its legally liable owner. If you drive a silver car, but the police state on a ticket that a gray car was parked illegally, then the police haven't established that your car was parked illegally.

Blue indicates a parking space reserved for the disabled anywhere I've ever lived, Boston/Worcester included.

The color of handicapped spots in Mass. don't matter b/c you weren't parked there. What do the ordinances in the ticketing jurisdiction say about the effect of blue paint on the ground? Your argument about the sign being obscured won't help you if the ordinance restricts parking in spots marked by a sign or by blue paint.

This is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. You should hire a lawyer of your own -- and if you really did know you were parked in a handicapped spot, you should consult a priest and a rabbi, and an disability advocate for your other question, "Should I try to contest this ticket?" as that turns on notions of morality, fairness, and civic duty.
posted by hhc5 at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2013


I got a ticket for parking in a poorly marked handicap spot. There were two handicapped spots next to each other. Both were outlined in blue, but one had a sign, one didn't, it was 6 AM, and I wasn't paying enough attention and blammo! I suddenly owed $400 to the LA Parking Violations Bureau. And I paid it, and now I'm super careful about making sure that I'm not parking in a handicap spot.

Blue is pretty universal, by the way.

Given that you got this ticket in California, I think you're probably screwed. The state is broke, and you almost certainly won't get out of this due to a small error on the ticket. If you don't have the money right now, you can request an extension or a payment plan.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:36 PM on February 27, 2013


I looked up the spot on Google Maps and here's how the blue curb looks - not anything I've noticed before. (I misremembered the street name, it was Haight.)

The trees were much more grown than you see here.
posted by Dragonness at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2013


I don't want to be too hard on you, but this is the nature of a parking ticket. You didn't know, you didn't see the sign, etc. How many people willfully park in the wrong spot? Probably not as many as those who make an honest mistake but are still in violation of the rules.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:44 PM on February 27, 2013


In my experience, it's our responsibility as drivers to notice and be sure of how parking spaces are marked. You should have known that blue spaces are universally considered reserved-for-handicapped because it's probably in your state's drivers manual (which means all cops assume you know the facts because that's how you got your license) and because there was a blue curb that you did see. This one's on you, I'm afraid. :(
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:48 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just called the Court Clerk and was transferred to the SFMTA and spoke with someone in the Parking Tickets department. They told me the first step is to request a citation review and submit photos to support my argument that the spot was improperly marked. If rejected, I can request an administrative hearing. Both of these can be done by mail.

The process is described on the SFMTA website.
posted by Dragonness at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, that blue looks pretty faded to me, although I still wouldn't have parked there. There are a lot of weird washed-out curbs in California, I've heard that they aren't repainted for environmental reasons.

I think the blog post suggested by 2bucksplus has helpful advice: "I would say, I am very sorry your honor. I won’t do it again, and could you possibly reduce the fine?" Maybe add that the curb was washed out and the trees blocked the sign, but don't say that you didn't know that blue = disabled parking. I think asking for a fee reduction rather than an outright waiver would be more appropriate.

No harm trying unless you'd miss a day of work that pays $300/hr.
posted by ziggly at 2:32 PM on February 27, 2013


That street-view picture did not help you at all. When you said that "the sign was obscured by a tree", I imagined a sign on a wall or fence with overgrowth covering it, not a plainly obviously free-standing sign on a sidewalk.

That sign is not obscured by anything.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:14 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


For a thousand dollar ticket I might think about hiring a lawyer. There's lots of lawyers out that do nothing but traffic infractions, they probably won't charge you too much, and might help you knock the fine down a good ways. The lawyers I know who do that work in my state crank through huge stacks of cases every day and often seem to work magic at making things go away where otherwise it seemed hopeless. I know people have some moral outrage at parking in a handicapped, but a thousand bucks? Seems ridiculous.
posted by bepe at 5:13 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you should go ahead and try to get the fine lowered, but I don't think that anyone will buy that you couldn't see the sign. Even if the trees have grown larger since April, the post is right there and it's on a metered street, so at minimum you should have been looking for a meter. I think it's okay to say the fine is huge and you have financial hardship or something, but the sign is pretty obvious and won't really pass muster as an excuse.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:18 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just called the Court Clerk and was transferred to the SFMTA and spoke with someone in the Parking Tickets department. They told me the first step is to request a citation review and submit photos to support my argument that the spot was improperly marked. If rejected, I can request an administrative hearing. Both of these can be done by mail.

Sorry, but I fail to see how you can claim it was improperly marked. There is clearly a sign there, whether or not it was obscured by tree branches is a different story. Even so, you have admitted that you saw the blue curb and you should have known what that meant.

When I look up the google map of that address I can see that every other parking space on the street has a meter. Did you not wonder why you got the only spot on the street without a meter?

Present all of this to a judge if you will, but you will look like a total jackhole.
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:00 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


What Bepe says. Veteran traffic lawyers are wizards, and what's better they prize their reputation for good results. They won't take your money on a helpless case. What counts as helpless varies; in my town it's passing a stopped school bus with its "Stop" signed flipped out; no mercy there. In SF it could be handicapped spaces, but no harm in checking.
posted by MattD at 7:30 PM on February 27, 2013


Just to close the loop on this: I did pay the ticket and didn't even bother trying to contest it. Hope they used the money for good, not evil.
posted by Dragonness at 6:08 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


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