Should my wife contest a parking ticket in court?
July 31, 2006 8:01 AM   Subscribe

My wife got a parking ticket - is it worth it to go to court?

It was a dark and stormy night (no really, it was!) when my wife parked in a poorly marked area of an old parking lot (I need to go take some pictures). Apparently it was half or a handicapped space or the space between handicapped spaces where access is provided to enter and exit the vehicle. The driver of the handicapped car called the police and they came and wrote her a ticket for illegal parking for $77. The cops said that she should just mail it in because if she goes to court the judge may change it to parking in a handicap spot and the fine can skyrocket.

Everything I've ever learned about tickets (moving violations, anyway) is that you should always go to court. Judges typically reduce fines and points just for taking the initiative to go to court. She was clearly in the wrong and admits that she made a mistake. She's not even annoyed that the spot wasn't clearly marked (I am, but that's another story). I think if she went to court and was contrite and kept her mouth shut, the judge may change the fine. On the other hand, the judge may be having a bad day and jack the fine on the spot.

In South Carolina, anyway, you go to court and typically plead "Guilty" unless you *really* want to contest it and not admit fault. The judge tells you the new fine, you plead guilty, you go to the window and you pay.

So, considering the cops gave her a "break," should she go to court? I'm leery about trusting the cops since watching "Know your Rights" from the ACLU.

Note: I'm not positive about the above video link because I have a filter at work.
posted by ajpresto to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total)
All things considered, do you think the judge is likely to reduce the fine enough for it to be worth your wife's time to go to court? (More importantly: does she?)
posted by JMOZ at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2006

I'd take it to court. If you can reasonably demonstrate that the markings weren't visible, I'd say you have a pretty good case.
posted by electroboy at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2006

She was parked in the space where a ramp or lift would come out? Bummer about the fine, but if I come back to my car and that spot is blocked, I'm hosed - I have no way of getting back in. If I have the option, I'll choose to park with the ramp up against a sidewalk so that situations like your wife's don't happen, but that's not always possible.

Eat the fine. These laws need to be enforced for the sake of those of us that can't just crawl out the other side.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:09 AM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

This thread may have some helpful info.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2006

For the record, we're not trying to get it dismissed at all. She clearly did the crime and is willing to pay for it.

I, being the cheapskate in the household, want to make it as cheap as possible.

To anybody with a disability, (ie. spaceman_spiff) she doesn't illegally park and she didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident, but again, one that she is willing to pay for.

Anybody know of a judge elevating a ticket out of spite? Not because the person complained inappropriately..
posted by ajpresto at 8:23 AM on July 31, 2006

$77 seems pretty light for a handicap violation. Considering that it would probably take her the better part of the morning (if not most of the work day), it's probably just not worth her time.
posted by oddman at 8:24 AM on July 31, 2006

Yogurtisgenocide, I didn't read the whole post you referenced.. that's really good information. As suspected, as long as she's not hostile about it, it's likely to get reduced or at least not elevated.
posted by ajpresto at 8:26 AM on July 31, 2006

Oddman, I agree. Very cheap. But if it can be even cheaper still... I won't complain. :P

She doesn't work and her mother watches the kids if need be, so it would be free, other than the hell I would have to listen to if she went and didn't get anything out of it.
posted by ajpresto at 8:27 AM on July 31, 2006

In Georgia, if your ticket is a county citation, there is a chance -- however slim -- that going to court might result in no fine at all. The chance depends entirely on the attendance (or rather, the lack thereof) of your citing officer. On the county level, no officer in court means no fine.

Of course, your officer might just love showing up on court day ...
posted by grabbingsand at 8:31 AM on July 31, 2006

Grabbingsand, that was addressed in a previous post I found. Officers are paid for their time and tickets are grouped for a time convenient to the officer. That is also the law in SC. Again, I don't dispute that she broke the law. We just want to do the best we can in regards to making this as cost effective for us.
posted by ajpresto at 8:38 AM on July 31, 2006

Last year I had a city parking ticket from where I live. The downtown police HQ allowed people to contest the parking ticket without going to court. So I came in, had a little talk and had the ticket waived. It's worth a trip down to the police department in person and see all the options you have.
posted by JJ86 at 8:43 AM on July 31, 2006

IME, even if the cop doesn't show up, you sometimes have to *ask* for dismissal; this happened to me in an accident case some 15 years ago, and my *lawyer* wasn't going to request the dismissal until I pressed him.
posted by baylink at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2006

Data point from Philadelphia: Every time I've ever contested a parking ticket I've had it dismissed without even having to say a word. Just showing up has been enough for them to say "ok, this is dismissed".
posted by dmd at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2006

I've never had that kind of luck in SC. It's always been reduced but never fully dismissed.
posted by ajpresto at 9:28 AM on July 31, 2006

I did this exact same thing. I parked in an unfamilar stripmall on a dark and rainy night. It wasn't even the closest spots or row to the door. There was no post designating it as a handicapped space, or on the stalls on either side.

I spent not even ten minutes in the store and came back to an envelope on my windshield. I was absolutely flabbergasted it was a ticket. I backed my car out of the stall and reparked, walked over the stall and could not see a wheelchair logo or any sign otherwise it was a handicapped spot. The sheriff's deputy was still parked down the row from me, so I started walking toward her. She looked right at me, knew exactly what I was going to say to her and drove away. It turned out her husband worked at that store and she knew that spot was a handicapped spot, I'm guessing it was kind of the "speed trap" of parking.

I did go to court armed with photos taken that night, and ones taken the next day in daylight, the painted wheelchair symbol was in about four inches of water and could barely be seen. I was completely dismissed with no fine within five minutes of addressing the magistrate. It was over $200 otherwise.

If it's worth taking the time to go to court, if it doesn't cost you more in lost wages, your chances are pretty good to get it dismissed. Try to bring up your sympathies to the disabled and that you would never, ever cause them a hardship knowingly.
posted by Jazz Hands at 9:50 AM on July 31, 2006

To anybody with a disability, (ie. spaceman_spiff) she doesn't illegally park and she didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident, but again, one that she is willing to pay for.

I totally understand that, and I'm sorry if it came off otherwise. It isn't the end of the world, and shit happens! But you get a lot of "oh, I'm just going to make a quick stop here, I'll be gone in a minute", or "oh ... is *that* what that sign meant? I'll never do it again!" excuses. Not that I think that's the case with your wife; but the level to which many people - judges and law enforcement included - don't take it seriously means that these fines serve a purpose. It's not that I don't think your individual fine shouldn't be lowered; it's that I don't think any fines for this kind of thing should be lowered.

But regardless of whether she shows up in court, you might want to follow up with a letter to city hall explaining that she wouldn't have done this intentionally, and wouldn't it be a good thing for everyone (disabled and non-disabled) if they made the markings a bit clearer?

As a side note, I've called the cops in situations like that before. In some cases, it's obvious that the car could have been parked in another spot, and that the space was clearly marked. In more ambiguous cases - like your wife's - I'd rather not call at all; but it's sometimes the only way to get the car moved so I can get into my car.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:52 AM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

No offense taken, spaceman... I was just saying that it wasn't intentional.

While, of course, I don't want to get into a "fight" here, this was at a class reunion. I don't think anybody else was using the facility at that night, so there was a 95% probability that the offender and offendee were in the same room for much of the night. If the person who needed the wheelchair would have asked the DJ or somebody to make an announcement, she could have easily moved her car.

This is what I would have done in this situation, especially if it was ambiguous. If it was clearly marked and it really looked like some ass who did it (I would probably go off the type of car.. this is an Element which is bedecked with enough paraphenalia to identify it as a family car rather than some punk kid) then I might have called the cops. I would probably err on the side of "they have more important things to do" rather than bothering them.

I suppose, though, if that was the only option, then so be it.

I guess the main thrust of my question is more of a "Do I listen to the cop who said they cut us a break or do I take it to a judge and have them dispense justice?" rather than "How do I get the ticket dropped?"
posted by ajpresto at 10:20 AM on July 31, 2006

She should pay the fine and move on. I was erroneously ticked a couple of years ago for parking in a handicapped spot and the fine was over $500. Took pictures, got a witness, went to court and won. I was parked completely legally in the spot adjacent to the handicapped spot, but Officer Friendly, perhaps motivated by the "Question Authority" bumper sticker on our CR-V, ticketed me anyway. Fighting the ticket took three months and two trips to the courthouse. First time officer didn't show up, which is typical, but the judge wanted "to talk to the officer" and scheduled another date a month later. At second date officer said he recalled ticketing a CR-V parked in a handicapped spot, blah blah blah. Judge dismissed us both without deciding, then cleared me by mail so that she wouldn't embarrass the officer in front of a packed courthouse. The whole thing was incredibly annoying and cost me hours of my time.

So I'd say it's easiest to just pay the fine, considering that she's actually guilty.
posted by ldenneau at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2006

Take some pictures, show them to 5 people and ask how unlear the signage is. If 4 out of 5 agree that it's unclear, might be worth going to the police dept. or a judge to appeal. Unlike a moving violation, I don't think this will affect your insurance costs.
posted by theora55 at 10:54 AM on July 31, 2006

For what it's worth, in Florida, the handicapped parking statute defers to the ADA section of FS on what makes a spot handicapped, and those restrictions are *very* tight: it has to *have a sign*, paint's not enough, and that sign's *bottom edge has to be at least 7 feet off the ground*.

I would investigate the *exact* letter of the law in your state, and, as you say, bring photographs. I did that myself once, and they actually dismissed before I got into court; they had had to throw out several tickets from that space since the building owner had not yet signed it properly (it was a brand new space).

And for spliff's benefit; my dad needed, had, and used a handicapped plate for most of his life (he fell off a 4 story building in his early 20s, had his ankles fused, and was written up in JAMA as a text case for mechanical traction), so I'm not at all indifferent to the needs of the handicapped.

That said, there are rules, and both sides ought to be following them. I'm not a big believer in giving the government the benefit of the doubt; they rarely return the favor.
posted by baylink at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2006

Anybody know of a judge elevating a ticket out of spite?

Yes. I once contested a speeding ticket, and when I went to plead not guilty, the judge told me that if I fought the ticket and he found me guilty, he'd throw me in jail for three days. Had I not appeared at all, I could have just paid the fine.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:51 AM on July 31, 2006

My limited experience in traffic court has been that the judges are beyond reasonable for people who are articulate and polite. In your shoes I'd take some pictures, write a letter to the facility where the space is as well as city hall to inform them their signage is screwed and show up in court indicating you did all those things.

But I'm a cheapskate and cranky about paying a fee for a wrong I didn't commit. It may not be worth $77.
posted by phearlez at 12:02 PM on July 31, 2006

You won't save money on a $77 parking ticket. Only go to court if you either think the law sucks, your insurance is going ruin you, or you didn't do it (or the fine is high enough it isn't going to affect you much). I took my last parking ticket to court because IMHO the traffic cop was trying to ticket people to make the city money, NOT to enforce the spirit of the law. Along with the fact the text of law I broke isn't available to citizens at all (I'd go through the long sordid tale of how I got a copy of it, but that's no fun).

They might hit you with a bigger fine (difficult, but not impossible) or make you pay court costs (VERY VERY VERY likely). I never had to because court costs are included in fines here (except for an extra $3 for witness fees). However, the opportunity to argue with the system cost me a lot of time. As I run my own business, that time cost me no money at all. Had I had to take time off work, well, let's see, it took 6 hours the first day + 2 hours the second day @ $10 an hour... that's $80 if I were paid by the hour. YIncomeMV.

(Yes, I lost, but at least I left the courthouse knowing that I cost the city plenty more than they got from me to steal that $23 out of my pocket)

For the $77, just pay it, unless you happen to have a hate on for the city over something.
posted by shepd at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2006

I agree with Baylink, if you do decide to go to court, investigate the *exact* law regarding handicapped spaces in your state. It's worth a trip to a public law library to do this. In addition to the Vehicle Code (or whatever it's called where you live) there might also be implementing regulations with important details that specify what signage/markings are required. Make copies of the statutes and regs and bring them to court.

Then take pictures of the spot at both day and night, so the judge can get a fair picture of how the spot is marked. If it doesn't comply, there's a good chance she can get it tossed out completely.

Whether the $77 is worth your/her time is another question entirely, though.
posted by whitearrow at 4:09 PM on July 31, 2006

I would have your wife go to court. That costs you nothing. Your wife does the time. The judge will not raise the fine. I was ticketed for "disobeying a street sign." It happened to be the spped limit sign. The officer had done me a favor by giving me that instead of the speeding ticket I deserved. I happened to be able to go to the court on the day of my hearing. I went in thinking I would plead guilty and pay the fine. After watching for about 20 minutes, it was clear that if I was polite and articulate I could catch a break. I got in front of the judge and said that the sign was hard to read at the speed I was going. He smiled and declared me guilty and reduced the fine from $85 to $10 court costs.

You never know what the judge will do, but raising the fine is so unlikely that it is worth going down for a look.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:35 PM on July 31, 2006

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