When Pigs Fly: How I Fought My Parking Ticket and Beat City Hall

Usually, the only warm-blooded creature in the house that ever bothers to get up and acknowledge me when I come through the front door is my dog, Major.

So I knew something was wrong when I walked through the door and the Honeybee greeted me with a big kiss.

Needless to say, I cut right to the chase: “OK, what happened?”

“I got a parking ticket.”

“How much?”

“Thirty-five bucks. But I’m innocent!”

“Uh huh. That’s what all you scofflaws say. Where did you get it?”

“In front of Patti’s house.”

Patti lives just around the corner from us. It turns out that the Honeybee had the misfortune of visiting her on a day when the city sweeper made its bi-monthly run. Of course, a rascally meter maid took the opportunity to cite her for being illegally parked along the curb.

Cities Are Exploiting Curb Taxes

Supposedly, my city’s street sweeping enforcement program was launched in response to citizen complaints, although I strongly suspect the only citizens that actually, um, “complained” were the mayor and his five city councilmen.

In reality, cash-strapped cities are using parking fines to fill their coffers like never before. A retired New York City meter maid copped to writing 227 tickets during a 5-hour shift. And last year, the meter maids in Washington DC cranked out parking tickets at the astonishing rate of one every eight seconds, writing nearly 2 million tickets that generated $92 million in revenue.

How to Fight a Parking Ticket

I fought the Honeybee’s parking ticket and got it dismissed — so despite the conventional wisdom, you can fight City Hall.

Best of all, you don’t have to be Clarence Darrow. However, it does help to follow these simple rules:

Stay calm. When you first see that pitiful pink ticket on your windshield, don’t rip it up in a fit of rage and vow never to pay it. Failure to pay parking fines can result in additional penalties and even the impounding of your car.

Gather evidence. Before you drive away, note any evidence or facts that could help you beat the rap. Take pictures of anything that might exonerate you; for example, how and where you were parked, or any missing or misleading regulatory signs. This was critical in how I got the Honeybee’s ticket overturned.

Look for an easy out. Carefully examine the ticket. Any incorrect information, whether it’s required or not, is grounds for dismissal — that includes the date, time, location, vehicle code violation, and make or model of your car. There were no mistakes on the Honeybee’s parking ticket, so I had to dig deeper.

Educate yourself. Information is power. That’s why it is absolutely crucial that you do a little research on the Internet. If I was going to beat the Honeybee’s ticket, I had to prove that my city was somehow in violation of the state vehicle code. The Honeybee’s citation referenced California Vehicle Code section 22507.6, which states in part:

Local authorities may, by ordinance or resolution, prohibit or restrict the parking or standing of vehicles on designated streets or highways, or portions thereof, for the purpose of street sweeping.

That section also includes this little nugget:

No such ordinance shall be effective until the street has been sign-posted in a conspicuous place at each entrance to the street with lettering setting forth the day or days and hours parking is prohibited.

So you can imagine my joy when I discovered, after retracing the Honeybee’s route, that the street she had parked on was not properly marked. In fact, the only no-parking sign in the entire neighborhood was two blocks away from where she had parked. So the ticket was bogus!

Don’t take “no” for an answer. My city refers all appeals directly to a private company that processes the tickets. So I sent a letter to them explaining why the ticket should be dismissed. I also included pictures and a street map showing the site of the alleged violation and far-off location of the lone no-parking sign. Ten days later I received the verdict: appeal denied. At this point, I think most people would have given up. Not me; I requested a court hearing.

Vigorously defend yourself. Don’t be timid when making your case, but always show respect to the judge. On the day of my hearing I presented the same map and pictures, along with a copy of the applicable section of the vehicle code. The judge tried to poke holes in my arguments — but I never wavered. The case was dismissed in less than five minutes.

The Bottom Line

In all, I reckon I spent six hours researching, gathering evidence, writing letters and preparing for court. For many folks, the time and effort involved to fight a parking ticket isn’t worth it. But I fought for principle’s sake; the ticket was unjust.

By the way,I brought my kids to court too, as a civics lesson to show them how our justice system works. They loved it!

So the next time you get a ticket, don’t get mad. Fight back!

Remember, the law works for the benefit of everyone — not just the meter maids who write the tickets.

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes

40 comments to When Pigs Fly: How I Fought My Parking Ticket and Beat City Hall

  • I once fought against a $300 fine because of parking in a handicap parking slot in the city. I live in the suburbs where the signs are HUGE, but in the city, the signs were “low” and hardly visible at night.

    I had a colleague got away with it by taking photos in the suburbs car parking and the city car park, being contrite etc etc. I did the same thing, but the person refused to give in anyway! I guess the person did not like my face!

  • You fought the law and you won!
    Where I live, there’s a DUI tax. The cops hang out by a nearby bar and pull over everyone that comes out of the parking lot.
    It’s pretty effective money-collection system, although hasn’t done much to curb DUI accidents.
    Hard core drunks just avoid drinking at the bar.
    There has to be a chapter in the next Freakanomics on this.

    • @Sam: As I mentioned in the article, heck yeah it was worth it! There were other intangibles that made the money issue a moot point for me.

      @Mr CC: I bet if you had checked your state’s vehicle code, you’d have found that those stealthy handicapped signs in the city were illegal. It would have been an open and shut case – with no need to show any contrition!

      @Matt: That sounds downright cheesy. Although I think drunk drivers should be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law, I don’t think the police should be staking out the bar and shaking down law-abiding citizens without probable cause. I’d be complaining to the city council about that practice.

      • TheDiggs

        Mr Penzo,

        I think your advice on how to fight a ticket is spot on. I have fought a few tickets over the year.

        I am not clear on why you thought the ticket was unjust. Did you feel the the ticket was unjust because your wife was unaware that she was parking illegally or do you feel that the ticket was unjust because you feel the government is exploiting the law to fill their coffers?

        If your wife knew that she wasn’t supposed to park there, but did it anyway because she thought should could get away with it, then i would have to say that you should have paid the ticket. I think it is important to follow the spirit of the law as well. If the government is using curb laws to fill their coffers, then they may be following the letter of the law, but they are not following the spirit of the law which i think is wrong/unjust.

        Respectfully. TheDiggs

        • Len Penzo

          The Honeybee had no idea she was illegally parked. The ticket was unjust because the street she parked on was improperly marked per the California vehicle code (i.e., it had no regulatory parking sign(s) on it). The code clearly states that parking citations cannot be enforced until the street is properly marked; the city chose to cite my wife anyway.

          The letter of the law has to be followed by everyone — including those enforcing the law.

          And while I hear where you’re coming from, I don’t necessarily agree with you about “the spirit of the law.” That argument leads down a very slippery slope.

          In the end, it must come down to “the letter of the law.” If we can start meting out justice based upon what one individual believes was the “spirit” of the law, then we remove the blindfold from justice and we end up with no laws at all. If the law is poorly written, then it needs to be rewritten to eliminate ambiguity.

          It’s the same thing regarding the myth of a “living breathing Constitution.” If the words written in our Constitution can be interpreted to mean anything, depending on who is doing the interpreting, then it really stands for nothing at all.

  • “From a personal finance perspective, the time involved to fight a parking ticket is usually not worth the cost”–I think this is the key to the whole system. But my hats off to you for taking a stand. We all need to start acting like citizens, involving ourselves in the process, rather than as victims.

    I also like your point about citations being used primarily for revenue generation. I’m hearing quite a bit about this from differnt people and there’s something to that.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Radical Self Reliance in the New Economy =-.

  • Len,

    I’m almost embarrassed to admit I felt a little populist pride that you beat the ticket. I had a vehicle towed a few months back in San Francisco, but just gritted my teeth and swiped a card. I suppose I should print this out: (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22658.htm) for the next time something happens. Thanks for the story!
    .-= Paul Kamp´s last blog ..Quick Update: Massachusetts Senate Race =-.

  • You go Len!! Paying for tickets of any sort is like burning money. More importantly, this post reminded me that I have a speeding ticket almost 2 years old that was never resolved (I went to court to fight it, it got put on hold, haven’t heard back from the city since). I should probably make sure there isn’t a warrant for my arrest or something silly like that. Thanks for keeping me out of jail friend! :-)

    • @Kevin: Like I said, the whole process was fun for me. There is a bit of real passion that overcame me while I was arguing my points to the judge – exercising my right to defend myself. The only thing missing was the jury. (Man, that really would have been fun!) It kind of made me feel like a, dare I say it, a lawyer up there.

      @Paul: I’ve had a car towed once before too, but I was guilty as sin – I didn’t dare try and fight that one. LOL

      @Ashley: Let me know if you need a up-and-coming lawyer to defend you. I know a good one – he’s had only one case, but he won it convincingly. ;-)

  • It’s amazing how many stop light cameras are popping up where I live all in the name of needing revenues. It’s all about filling holes in the budget, not safety.

  • My son just got a seat-belt ticket and he had it dismissed in court. He was in his counsin’s Ford Escort that had the old automatic shoulder belts and they were disconnected. But, he was wearing his lap belt, which is all that is required by law.

    Since $300 is a lot of money for a 20 year old, I printed out the text of the law and sent him down to court. He told me the judge even snickered when he plead not guilty. But, the same judge dismissed his ticket when shown the evidence.

    The point I wanted to make is that the officer either knew or should have known my son was in compliance with the law, but ticketed him anyway. I am sure they are under intense pressure to raise revenue right now.

    But, shaking-down law abiding citizens isn’t a solution for an irresponsible Government. They need to cut back at some point and realize there is a limited amount of revenue available to them.
    .-= Bret @ Hope to Prosper´s last blog ..The End of Reckless Spending =-.

    • The sad news is, Bret, many people that receive unjust tickets will simply pay the fine and be done with it – either because they don’t have the time, or feel it’s not worth their time.

  • Bryan W

    I too had a similar experience fighting a $35 ticket issued in error. It would have been far easier to just pay the $35, but I wanted to make sure the error went on record. The more errors we point out, the more incentive ticketers will have to not write bogus tickets.

    • Right now those writing the tickets have ZERO incentive for writing bogus tickets. Perhaps errors would be reduced if cities were forced to PAY the same fine to the defendant if they win their case. Just a crazy thought that is never going to happen.

  • Yael

    I once got a heavy ticket dismissed because it was written at 12:30 am, but they wrote on the ticket 12:30 p.m.
    I made sure to go to the court before 12:30 p.m. because it’s not possible, and it worked! The clerk didn’t even notice the mistake until I pointed it out to him and wrote off the ticket.

  • I’ve beaten a couple of parking tickets for being parked too close to a fire hydrant. In both cases, the ticketing officer neglected to notate what the ticket was actually for.

    I also beat a citation from the city’s department of Licenses and Inspections for trash left out on my property on a date not scheduled for trash pick up. In this case, it was a lot more complicated because there was a bucket of trash on my property and it was there at a time it wasn’t supposed to be. The trick was demonstrating that I wasn’t responsible for it, and for that I had a photograph. Well, I’d taken several, but when the time came to print them out for the hearing, I could only find one on my drive. Fortunately, it was sufficient to make my point which was this: I live in a row home, i.e. my next door neighbors each share a wall with me and the houses open directly onto the sidewalk, so no fences. My neighbor’s front door is right next to the property line between our houses. It was very easy for my neighbor to drop the bucket just on my side of the property line when leaving his house, and if I didn’t see it before the inspector came by, well, I couldn’t move it now could I? The judge at the hearing accepted my argument and the photo showing the neighbor’s front door and the property line, conveniently marked by a gap in the sidewalk.

    • Well done, Raven. If I was the judge I would have dismissed your case too, even if I didn’t believe it, just on the sheer creativity of the argument. A quality defense, and very well done! :-)

  • Financial Bondage

    Speeding tickets you should always question…. usually go to court and tell the judge you were guilty with an explanation… they will usually cut you some slack… you pay a fine and no points for example…

    fighting a parking ticket? Not sure about that one if it’s worth it or not… I suppose I would If I felt they were in the wrong.

  • It’s great that you appealed your parking ticket and were succesful.
    Unfortunately too many people say it’s too time consuming but that view is wrong. If motorists appeal when the ticket is unfairly issued it will serve as a warning to parking authorities to act fairly.

  • Kathleen

    @ Financial Samurai: I’m going through a similar situation right now but I’m fighting a $20 ticket that I got parking on my own property. You ask whether it’s worthwhile. I’ll be taking time off work to attend court (I make $23/hr). I realize that it would be cheaper and less headache to just pay the ticket but it’s the principle. Yes, it is definitely worthwhile!

  • Steven-H

    In our city, (Cape Coral, Fl) we have a lawn watering ordinance that allows only 2 days & only at certain times on those 2 days. About 6 months ago I received a citation that it was going to cost me $100 for watering at the wrong time.

    I went in & showed them a picture of my house & it didn’t match the picture taken by the code enforcement guy. So I didn’t have to pay them greedy so-and-sos $100 of my money.

    Two questions I should have asked but neglected to do so:
    1. If you can’t even get one correct street for a code violation, how many others did you get wrong.?
    2. What are you doing out at 11:30pm for code enforcement.?

    • Regarding #1, I think these code enforcement officers don’t really care — they’re banking that the people getting the citations will be too apathetic (or unable to afford the time off) to fight any technicalities.

      Regarding #2, our government (at all levels) is now so big that it must resort to this type of craziness to maintain itself.

  • Wow, well done. Was it worth it though, all that time to fight the $35 ticket? Might be tough if you make more than $35/hr no?

  • Many cities are cash strapped and handing out tickets for stupid things. Good advice on how to get out of a ticket

  • Around here, you’d have to pay the court fees even if the ticket were dismissed. Yes, I live near D.C. :/

  • Once I got similar ticket in another city that’s about 5-hour drive from where I live. But it’s such a city that we might visit again and again. So I had to pay for the ticket.

    I had to appear before the judge in a criminal court. But the officer who gave me the ticket said it sounded bad but it’s not.

    I went to the court – 5 hours drive. The judge said “Get a lawyer” and gave me another court date.

    I went to court 5 times over a period of almost 2 years and the same judge would say the same thing.

    Finally, the last time I went in, a different judge was sitting. Believe me he held his head in the palm of his hands for seemed like a minute and kept saying “We are very sorry.”

    He said “Can you give $5.” I said yes. I gave five dollars and ran on my two legs and borrowed a couple more legs as fast as I could and never looked back.

    That was 20 years ago.

  • If I were wrongly accused or charged something you can bet I’ll spend my time and effort to prove my point. I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying, hey it’s not my fault. Anyone who just gives in just gives in the right to fight for what is right. Cheers!

  • Well done, Len!

    City halls over here I am sure try the same trick with parking and the police too with speed cameras.

  • I had similar approach with the university.

    Sometimes assume you’l just pay the $35 and leave it be.

    But it’s always worth the fight!

  • Toni T

    Any suggestion from a tow on city street alleged vehicle was parked blocking a drive way. Do not thing it happen but the vehicle was removed.

    • Len Penzo

      That’s a tough one, Toni. Unless somebody has a pic with a time stamp showing your car wasn’t blocking the driveway at the time the car was towed, I suspect you are going to have to hope to get away on a technicality of some sort (incorrect license number on the ticket, lack of a sign in the immediate vicinity indicating you were in a tow-away zone, etc.).

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