Recently for the first time I provided a consultation regarding a violation of S.C. Code § 56-3-1970 ("Free Parking for Handicapped Persons"). I thought this would be a good post for my blog because I am sure that other people have had questions after receiving these tickets and I also wanted to demonstrate how complicated the legal analysis can be in criminal cases even for a "lowly" parking violation.
In this case the client had received a very expensive citation after pulling his car into the only available parking space while a passenger made a quick run inside to pick something up. He wanted to know what options were available to him to avoid having to pay the fine himself. Not having any prior experience in parking or handicapped permit violations I had to do some quick legal research.
The first thing I did was pull a copy of the south Carolina Code of Laws and look up Section 56-3-1970. This statute provides:
It is unlawful to park any vehicle in a parking place clearly designated for handicapped persons unless the vehicle bears the distinguishing license plate or placard provided in Section 56-3-1960.
It is unlawful for any person who is not handicapped or who is not transporting a handicapped person to exercise the parking privilege granted handicapped persons pursuant to Sections 56-3-1970, 56-3-1960, and 56-3-1965.
A person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than thirty days for each offense.
The summary courts are vested with jurisdiction to hear and dispose of cases involving a violation of this section.
After reading the statute I was able to determine the following:
It is unlawful to park in a handicapped space without a license or permit;
It is unlawful to use someone else's permit;
If you violate this section it is a $1,000-2,000 fine (with Court assessments);
You could be arrested and spend 30 days in jail.
I immediately focused in on the language I bolded above "park" and "arrested and spend 30 days in jail." Many traffic terms have been defined by the legislature in the motor vehicle code section. I looked at the index and found S.C. Code § 56-5-610 purporting to define the term "park." It stated:
To "park" when prohibited, means the standing of a vehicle, whether occupied or not, otherwise than temporarily for the purpose of and while actually engaged in loading or unloading.
According to my first reading it appeared that my client may not have actually parked his vehicle pursuant to the definition of parking since he was arguable engaged in loading and unloading.
Knowing how difficult statutory interpretation is I conducted a search of South Carolina case law looking for 56-3-1970, the handicapped parking statute. I came across Clemson University v. Speth, 344 S.C. 310, 543 S.E.2d 572 (S.C. App. 2001). In Speth the Court reviewed the conviction from a local municipal court of a violation of the handicapped parking statute. The driver had pulled into a handicapped space "for less than a minute" to remove some heavy items from the trunk of his car. A police officer came by and after blocking his vehicle in wrote him a ticket. After a jury trial in the Municipal Court the Circuit Court on appeal reversed on grounds relating to the definition of "park" contained in 56-5-610.
The Court of appeals rejected the argument and reinstated the conviction. The Court found that "park" as defined in 56-5-610 did not apply to 56-3-1970 finding "no indication the Legislature intended the Act's definition of the word "park" as set forth in § 56-5-610 to apply to [the handicapped parking statute]."
What this indicated to me is that you can be guilty of a handicapped parking violation in South Carolina even if you are occupying the vehicle, ignition running while someone else actively is loading or unloading into the vehicle. I also noted that there are no exceptions contained for delivery trucks, construction vehicles, taxicabs or the like.
Now that I had a better grasp of whether or not my client had any real defenses to his ticket I then looked at the language providing for up to thirty days of jail sentence. Any offense that carries jail time is at least a criminal misdemeanor and is a criminal conviction for background check purposes. Even if you are not actually handcuffed and taken to jail if you are convicted either by simply pleading guilty or no-contest and paying the fine you run the risk that the Court will make a report to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). SLED would then in turn create a publicly available criminal record that would need to be disclosed anytime en employment application is submitted.
The available options appeared to be to either: 1) request the officer re-write the ticket to another offense; 2) request pre-trial intervention; 3) request a jury trial and ask the trial jury to consider the case from my client's perspective; 4) plead not-guilty in traffic court \ pay the fine.
The Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, is a Lexington SC Criminal Defense Law Firm representing clients in misdemeanor and felony cases pending at all levels of State or Federal Court. To receive a consultation with an attorney in our Lexington office please contact us at 888-301-6004. Consultations are provided on a paid basis for handicapped tickets either in the office or by telephone (free consultations are not available).