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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ain't no justice in DC: Law on the streets and law on the books

So I just paid forty bucks for two parking tickets.  I feel the parking tickets were unjustly imposed however for violating basic principles of ex post facto and legality, though I know that the law is a horse's ass here, and that really the principles are not strictly speaking violated.  Here's what happened.

Before I left to Israel, I parked my car in DC on the street in a perfectly good spot that required no changes to be made while I was gone.  However, while I was gone, the city's agents, in their infinite wisdom, declared those spots "emergency no parking" areas, and thus I got socked with 20 buck tickets.  Twice.

When I returned, I happened upon a cop, and asked him: officer krupke, what gives?  He said, they can do it because you can't leave your car in the same spot in DC for more than 72 hours.  But that rule is posted nowhere, I protested.  He said that's right. I then added: I've left my car in the same spot for more than 72 hours hundreds of times while I've lived in DC, never once getting a ticket or a warning.  And he said, that's right; the rule is never enforced!

I said that ain't right.  He said, This is DC. Nothing here is right.

Then I asked if there was any proof the person giving me the ticket knew that my car had been there for 72 hours.  And he said, no, none at all. 

And like a jackass, I paid forty bucks over the phone today. Argh.

If DC were run by economist types like Rosenberg and Shavell, of course, they would simply ticket every luxury car, frequently for no good reason, and they would collect extortion payments from people like me who haven't the inclination or time to fight these scoundrels.  But there's probably something illegal about that...

Posted by Administrators on June 15, 2005 at 05:07 PM in Legal Theory | Permalink


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“I said that ain't right. He said, This is DC. Nothing here is right.”

Well I’ll second that! I just moved here a few months ago from out west, and the DC area is full of chiselers. Everywhere. For example my doctor charges you extra for a copy of any medical report or any letter or form. The parking ticket saga is yet another example of chiseling. So I’m moving back as soon as I can.

Posted by: A. Zarkov | Jun 18, 2005 3:32:00 AM

As the police/judges have been so fond of telling me in the past, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse". How exactly Joe Citizen is supposed to be "aware" of the law given the volumes that make up any given state's statutes is beyond me, but apparently the state expects you to be reading these things before bed every night.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 17, 2005 10:56:14 AM

I have successfully fought a parking ticket in DC. Last summer I parked at a broken meter that started working while I was parked. Naturally I got a ticket between the time the "Fail" flag disappeared and the time I returned. I simply wrote a nice letter and sent it to the address indicated on the ticket explaining what happened. I was concerned that the city would point out that I had parked all day at a two hour meter (this fact was clear from my letter, I'm excessively honest), and hold me to the ticket. Instead they dropped it and even sent me a nice apology for the inconvenience. Maybe I caught them on a good day.

Posted by: Tom | Jun 17, 2005 8:00:30 AM

The suggestion that I was unfairly looking for subsidized long-term parking is absurd on its face in the absence of any reasonable way to know that you can't park for longer than 72 hours in a given space, especially when that rule is admittedly never enforced and never posted. Besides, I pay a substantial registration and parking fee to the city precisely so that I can enjoy parking privileges as a DC resident without having to secure commercial parking spaces. Again, if the 72 hour rule were posted and enforced, I'd at least have known that I should seek long-term parking elsewhere. But what I find irksome (if not a gash in the moral fabric of decent society) is the notion that we should intuit obscure parking laws that are never enforced...or even posted.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jun 16, 2005 10:20:11 PM

Maybe you should feel lucky you only got two tickets! In philly the meter readers will give you a new one ever new shift. But, in the future I'd recomend fighting them. I've fought a number of tickets that I though were less than fairly imposed (even ones that fit the letter of the law, but for some reason were not fully fair, including situations like the French one above). Every time I've fought a ticket I've at least had it reduced by half. Many places let you file your "first appeal" by mail. At least if you can do that, it's worth the few minutes it takes to write a letter if there is unfair surprise, as there seemed to be here.

Posted by: Matt | Jun 15, 2005 11:31:20 PM

Yea, I'm not sure you can take the moral high ground here! :-)

Our very smart summer associate went to Chicago last weekend and deliberately got a parking ticket to save on airport parking.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 15, 2005 10:39:49 PM


You may be right, there may some rent seeking element going on here. On the other hand, I don't find the city's position entirely unsympathetic. You sought to be given a kind of subsidized long-term parking on city property and the city saw no reason why it shouldn't pass on some of that cost to you (as it did). You had the option of securing commercial parking, but took your chances instead on a public street. (And the costs passed along to you -- $40 -- probably aren't appreciably greater than the cost of commercial parking).

Posted by: Kaimi | Jun 15, 2005 8:13:46 PM

The French do it better. In Aix-en-Provence, at 2 am on the 16th day of the month, and at 2 am on the last day of the month (usually the 31st day), all cars have to shift from one side of the street to the other. The French know this, but the tourists don't. At 2 am on the aforesaid mornings, tons of tow trucks come out of nowhere and tow cards into huge pens where they await expensive redemption.

Posted by: Anthony D'Amato | Jun 15, 2005 5:30:01 PM

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