On CNN’s HLN, cheerleader-host Robin Meade was aghast this morning. The story: Bob and Angie Shepherd, who live in my current home town of Alexandria, Virginia, had their car stolen and used in a crime spree, including a murder in Suitland, Maryland. The immediate concern of Bob and Angie, however, is the $400 worth of DC parking tickets the crooks racked up using their car. The Shepherds have been charged with all of them, as owners of the vehicle. (DC is notoriously relentless in collecting parking fines.)
“Are you kidding me?” Bob Shepherd told reporters. “Car is stolen, involved in a homicide, and then you want to charge me for the tickets, even though I’ve given you all of the documentation showing that it’s been involved in a homicide?”
And sweet Robin rolled her eyes and left the story at that. So far, I haven’t found an online version of the story that offers anything but a “crazy and mean government bureaucrats prey on innocent victims of crime to collect parking ticket fees” narrative. None have done anything to enlighten readers or viewers about “what’s going on here?”.
First, and this should be obvious but it needed to be noted in news accounts, there is no “Parking tickets on cars used in murders don’t count” law or rule. Why would there be? It doesn’t matter what else a vehicle has been involved in: if it had been used to rescue puppies, the parking tickets would still have to be paid. Bob Shepherd’s lament is illogical and at odds with how laws are enforced.
The main information missing in this story , however, is this:
From the Traffic Violation Law Firms site:
If your vehicle is stolen, or the license plates are stolen from it, it’s important to note that both the Department of Motor Vehicles, and your insurance company (if the car itself is missing) need to be notified as soon as possible. Look at it this way: the person who stole your car is driving around and may very well commit traffic violations, get parking tickets, or even be involved in a crime. The vehicle itself, and/ or the license plates, are still registered to you. Therefore, should the thief’s actions result in citations and fines, they’ll be showing up in your mail and you’ll be expected to pay them. Should the vehicle be spotted at the scene of illegal activity, you might very well have the police knocking at your door….
Things could be a bit confusing for you for awhile, but ultimately you won’t be held responsible for the thief’s actions provided you can prove what happened. This is what is known as the stolen vehicle traffic ticket defense: you are not liable for the citations received because the vehicle was not in your hands.
Of course, it will be up to you to prove that the vehicle or license plates were stolen from you, but provided you reacted logically when the theft first took place, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. By “reacted logically,” we mean:
- You called the police and reported the theft.
- You called the DMV and notified them that the vehicle and/ or the license plates were no longer in your hands.
- You called your insurance company and notified them that the vehicle was stolen and needed to be removed from your insurance policy.
Provided you did both of these things and have documentation of it, you’re off the hook for the thief’s mistakes. But once again, it makes no sense to wait for the problem to come to you. The moment you realize your car or your license plates are missing, you need to start making phone calls.
The bonus to all of this? Notifying the DMV that the vehicle was stolen doesn’t only keep you from being held responsible for what’s done with it. It also gives them a heads-up that might help lead to the recovery of the car and/ or the capture of the thief. The more people who are aware of the vehicle’s stolen status, the better. Also, if parking violations or other reports of that nature are coming back on the car, it might just help the police locate the person who’s behind them. You never know.
It is true that the Greater DC/ Northern Virginia/Maryland cluster is a particularly unfortunate area for a car theft. The Shepherds needed to call authorities in all three states. So will any future victims of car theft, and if the news media did its job rather than aim at ginning up cheap outrage by neglecting critical facts, they would know it.
20 thoughts on “Case Study (Not Related To Politics!) Of Our Incompetent News Media: The Murder Car’s Parking Tickets”
This is classic “the cool people standing around the water cooler” media stuff. It’s a media staple. All the newsreader has to do is roll their eyes and say, “can you believe this?” It’s sloth acting as if it’s reportage.
The “Traffic Violation Law Firms” site says you are not liable for the violations caused by a car thief, although the burden is on the owner to prove the car was stolen. This is logical, because there would be a never ending chain of liability if the original ower of property transferred to another person could always be held responsible for that property. The Shepherds say they provided evidence that the car was stolen and used for a variety of crimes (including the murder) during the time frame of the tickets, but the District is still pursuing the tickets against them for the violations caused by the thief. The article goes on to say the DC DMV is being unresponsive to their appeal, so they turned to the media (a common strategy when faced with bureaucratic incompetence).
Is the issue that Shephard focused on the most serious crime in the quoted statement, rather than the more mundane car theft? Are we to assume that based on this quote, Shephard selectively provided on strictly the evidence that the car was used in the murder to the District, rather than providing the full case file that would presumably show the approximate date the car was stolen prior to its use in the murder?
Are we to assume the District carefully considered this casefile in its entirety and concluded the Shepherds are still liable (because murder is no defense against illegal parking by a third party in illegal possession of the car)? Or is the most plausible explanation that someone dropped the ball at the DMV, never properly processed the appeal, and are blindly trying to collect the fee despite the unread evidence the car was stolen at the time the tickets were issued?
All of which should have been explored in the news reports.
Yeah, but how are your going to expect them to tell a compelling story in the 1 minute and 30 seconds given share the news item about Big Parking mistreating a crime victim? I mean, facts? Who needs them? But, think of this: Isn’t this the same group compelling us to accept on faith the FBI’s motives are pure as the driven snow? That we should simply trust our government to do the right thing competently? That we have nothing to fear from an additional 87,000 IRS agents? Trust the IRS but not the parking ticket department? Huh.
You realize the entire active duty British Army is about 6,000 shy of that many people? I was about to say that after that the NATO armies just get smaller, but that’s not the case.
Whenever anyone says they want the government to take over health care, I ask them when they’d been to a DMV office. (Although frankly, the last time I was at an Arizona DMV office, I was shocked how pleasant and competent the staff were. Probably a function of the fact much of what DMV can do (e.g., transfer titles and issue plates) has been farmed out to private contractors.)
I went at an off peak hour to swap a vehicle registration, and was in and out in 15 minutes. This was a few years back, I think soon after the state upgraded its computers.
Thanks to the upgrade, a lot of transactions don’t even need to be done in person anymore. For instance, every three years, they mail you a new registration certificate for your glove box, and you either pay online with the receipt code they give you, or you mail them a check. The certificate is instantly valid.
In most jurisdiction there is little or no connection between a city’s police and their parking enforcement. The parking folk are paid to write tickets. The fact that they write the same car in the same place for days on end means noting, all the tix count.
The real police should have the original report of the theft on file, and that should insulate them from liability for the parkers after that date and time. Getting no help from the city parking authority is not news; they want the bucks. Period.
I would think that if you reported the car stolen to the state in which the vehicle is registered, you’d be covered in any of the adjoining states as well. Otherwise, you’d be obligated to notify the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Well, maybe the lower 48 and Alaska. It’d be REALLY hard to drive my car to Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
You failed to mention one other key thing that would have happened if the car had been reported stolen:
Every law enforcement agency now has digital records. The moment the plates were run at that very first ticket, the meter maid would know it was stolen. An officer would have been dispatched and the car would have been towed to impound. The other 399 tickets would have never been issued because the car was sitting in impound. The car would have never been connected to a murder, again, because the car would be sitting in impound.
Meter maids don’t run license plates on their prey. They just write tickets.
It should never take $400 worth of tickets before the Parking Enforcement Officer thinks something is not quite right and calls in to check the status of the vehicle, i.e. is it lost, stolen, abandoned.
Why not? Parking tickets generate a ton of revenue in the form of fines and fees. It’s about the money.
Parking and traffic tickets should be priced to be about safety and keeping the parking spaces clear for the next car and to cover the cost of enforcement. Using fines to raise revenue for the city is unethical and should be outlawed.
Getting up to $400 following standard procedure is not absurd in anyway, and a parking officer is simply not going to be phased by a car accumulating a few hundred dollars in fees.
A standard policy is to charge $25 per day for a violation, and to tow the vehicle after 2 weeks (assuming it is merely a payment violation, not a safety violation). Giving people two weeks lets people who’s vacations or business trips run long a slight break before they go through the hassle of reclaiming a towed vehicles.
14 days x $25 = $350, so the violations probably all occurred after the vehicle was abandoned, and just before the vehicle was impounded.
Also, in a place like DC, $25 may be less than the cost of a parking garage, so some wise guys may abuse the system.
I’m confused, did they not report the vehicle stolen? Of course it should be on them in that case. This trope in TV where the owner forgets always makes me cringe. No normal person would let a stole car go unreported.
“Notifying the DMV that the vehicle was stolen doesn’t only keep you from being held responsible for what’s done with it. It also gives them a heads-up that might help lead to the recovery of the car and/ or the capture of the thief.” I giggled at this part. I have never seen or experienced a DMV bureaucrat assist me or anyone else if it meant them doing something out of the ordinary or getting out of their chairs for other than a coffee break.
The proper place to report the theft is to the local police. Try calling DMV at 9:00 at night.
I recall that I was 15 years (more or less) into my career when the fact that a vehicle was reported stolen was finally placed on the DMV records. It may have been stimulated by the number of stolen vehicles that were re-registered in the thief’s (or some unknowing third-party) name at the counter. They finally inserted the phrase “DMV Stop” in the printout.