Will I have to pay a parking ticket for a stolen car?
February 20, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

My car was stolen. Will I have to pay the ticket for illegal parking where it was dumped?

While I was out of town for a week between Christmas and New Year, my car was stolen from my apartment in Northwest Philadelphia. I got a call on Friday, December 30th from a Philadelphia Police detective, asking if I knew where my car was... I didn't. Apparently it was parked on a sidewalk outside a junkyard in Southwest Philly with a torn up ignition column, and the junkyard called the cops to get it towed away. An officer came out and ticketed it, and forwarded the information along to the Auto Theft division because of how obviously stolen it was.

It was at this point that the detective contacted me, confirmed with me that the car was actually stolen, and said that they would try to get the car towed somewhere for me to pick up when I got back in town. Alas, the car disappeared again between the time that the first officer ticketed it, and the time when they tried to find it to tow it. The detective was apologetic, but they technically couldn't impound it right away until they confirmed it was stolen. They canvassed the nearby junkyards and looked through the impound databases, but never found it. I was advised to file an actual stolen-vehicle report, so I had a cop come out to my apartment and do that.

That was the last I heard about my car, until I got a Notice of Violation in the mail at the end of January. I was cited for parking on a sidewalk, plus a penalty for not responding to the original ticket (which I never had, of course). Total: $71. I scheduled the first possible hearing to dispute the ticket, which is coming up this week (I'm not missing work, so it's only a waste of time, not money). The hearing confirmation letter says that I should "bring any documentary evidence and/or witnesses that might substantiate your claim and assist the hearing examiner in making a fair and rational decision in your case." All I have is the name of the detective, the ticket number, and the police report number for the theft. What else should I bring? Are they likely to throw out the ticket, or at least the penalty for not responding on time? Will they not care that the car was stolen, since it wasn't reported as such at the time of the ticket? What's the worst that can happen if I don't pay the ticket, since I don't have a car for them to impound? Does anyone have any experience going to the Philly Bureau of Administrative Adjudication that might be helpful?
posted by DeucesHigh to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Bring your proof of travel. Show the judge that you were, in fact, out of town. So, plane tickets, credit card statement showing you in __Hometown__ on the night/day of the ticket. Or a cash receipt for something you bought that day. Whatever else you can think of to prove that you weren't with the car.
posted by bilabial at 12:39 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

This was in NYC, but when my now wife's FL license plate was stolen we reported it and a few months later her mom started getting tickets mailed to her old FL address where the plate was registered. We contested all the tickets saying the plate had been stolen and reported as such before the tickets were issued and included a copy of the police report and all the tickets ended up getting dismissed.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:39 PM on February 20, 2012

You asked what's the worst that can happen if you don't pay the ticket - In some jurisdictions, unpaid tickets can lead to bench warrants, meaning you could be arrested at some point. So - it makes sense to deal with the ticket, even though they can't impound the car.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2012

Can you get a copy of the police report? What about a statement from the police officer who called you initially? That, along with any documentation showing that you were out of town, should IMO at least give you a foot to stand on.
posted by sarae at 1:30 PM on February 20, 2012

Most judges will dismiss this ticket (hopefully) if you have supporting documentation for all that you've written above. So mainly be sure to have all your documentation in order as well as any statements from the police on the fact that it was stolen when ticketed. If you can get in contact with the detective you worked with, see if you can have mailed or faxed any further documentation that could help your case from his/her department. At a certain point, you may want to weigh whether it is worth the hassle or paying the fine however. Personally I'd fight it to the bitter end just on principle....and based on what I've seen for Philly (eg. parking wars), it could be quite a battle without all your t's crossed and i's dotted. Good luck.
posted by samsara at 1:35 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, well I don't really have any proof of travel. I just checked my credit card statements and there aren't any purchases from that time period (I was staying with my parents, so they were picking up the check for everything). Furthermore, I was travelling by car, so no plane/train tickets. If this was a murder case, they could probably find me in PA Turnpike EZPass Lane driver cameras to get an alibi, but I don't think that'll help me here...

I don't have a copy of the police report either. The officer who came out to my apartment gave me the Control Number, but no actual paper copy. I checked out the phila.gov records website, but they claim to need $25 and 10-12 weeks to get me a police incident report. I have the name of the detective who spoke with me, but I don't actually know what precinct he was working out of.

If it turns into too much more trouble, I'll probably just pay the ticket, but I'd like to be as prepared as possible for Thursday. I would never simply let it go unpaid even if they *can't* take the car, I was just curious what their recourse is in Philadelphia.
posted by DeucesHigh at 2:06 PM on February 20, 2012

Fight it! Don't give those PPA bastards a dime. Solidarity from East Falls!
posted by The White Hat at 2:29 PM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm assuming you reported the car stolen to your insurance company, too? Perhaps take along a copy of that insurance report.
posted by easily confused at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2012

Did you get gas on the drive to your parents' home that you could show receipts? (I assume you weren't driving your own car!) If you have a smartphone, it's possible (creepily) that it also carries a record of your location. Honestly I doubt it will go that far once the judge hears "stolen car." If not, hit the media like The Consumerist. "Still getting tickets from my stolen car!" is a great outrage-filter piece--especially since it got re-stolen from the police after they first found it stolen!
posted by nicebookrack at 2:56 PM on February 20, 2012

The police mailed me several parking tickets that were issued on my car where it was parked after someone stole it and took it for a joyride. Apparently the stolen car people and the meter maid people don't talk to each other much. All I did was write my case number on the parking ticket and mail it back. The police eventually figured it out. Good luck!
posted by emelenjr at 2:56 PM on February 20, 2012

EZPass Lane driver

Aha! If your EZPass system is like the Florida system, you can get records of the car going through the checkpoints online. I'd guess you took a rental car? Or you own two cars?

Print out that electronic record of where you were driving on your way to your parents, and on your way home.

Did you send any emails while you were away? Did you take time off from work? Did you visit anyone other than your parents who would write a letter stating that you were in _Other City_ on the dates in question? Did anybody take your picture with a digital camera? Hopefully in front of a sign? None of those things would be enough on their own, but a few together might work.

The police report number is definitely a must.
posted by bilabial at 7:01 PM on February 20, 2012

Take the police report to wherever you go to pay/dispute tickets. Ask them to cut you a break. It will depend on the city and the clerk; some people are jerks, not most.
posted by theora55 at 4:23 PM on February 21, 2012

Response by poster: Well, I just got back from the hearing. They were nice and believed me, but said I definitely need the police report, which they unfortunately can't look up on their system. I explained why I hadn't gotten the police report -- it would take 10-12wks and cost $25 -- so they told me I could probably just go down to City Hall and get a copy of it. I tried that, but the city records office says it will take 4-6 weeks and they still wants $25.

At this point, I have to either pay the ticket, or mail back a form to request a hearing with the Parking Appeal Panel. I'm not sure I'd even have the police report in hand before the appeal, but if I lost, I could then appeal to the Common Pleas Court. By then I'm sure I'd have the report, but I'd only be fighting for $46 minus train fare for two trips downtown. I think I might let the city win this one...
posted by DeucesHigh at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2012

That's unfortunate it costs a third of the initial fine to get something that proves you're not guilty and shouldn't pay anything (let alone the added burn of not having the money that was invested with the car to begin with).

For peace of mind, I think you're probably best just paying it. For me however, I wouldn't just let it slide though. I'd make sure that those I'm paying, as well as city officials are made aware of the fine trap they've inadvertently created. Being truly innocent should involve no loss whatsoever.

Anyway, this is the price of the bureaucratic engine I suppose. Here's your receipt and here's my receipt of your receipt....
posted by samsara at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: Well I mulled it over for the last few days, and I think I'm just going to pay it. Thanks for the help though, everyone!
posted by DeucesHigh at 6:47 AM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: Just thought I would follow up on my question -- an arrest was made, the cops recovered my car, and I got it back today only slightly worse for the wear!
posted by DeucesHigh at 6:32 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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