Charlie Buttrey

July 24, 2020

The first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.  I imagine that the first parking ticket was issued shortly thereafter.

The parking ordinance in Los Angeles provides that if a person parks her car past the allotted time limit and forces other people to drive around in search of other parking spaces, she must pay a $63 fine. And — here’s the kicker for the purpose of this post — if she fails to pay the fine within 21 days, the City imposes a late-payment penalty of $63.

Question: does this late-payment penalty violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits excessive fines?

Answer: Maybe.

Some Angelenos argued in the U.S. district court that the late-payment penalty was unconstitutional.  After the court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, the scofflaws appealed and, this past Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit left the door open to holding that the late-penalty payment does not pass constitutional muster.

The Excessive Fines Clause, it noted, “traces its lineage back to at least the Magna Carta, which guaranteed that ‘a Free-man shall not be [fined] for a small fault, but after the manner of the fault; and for a great fault after the greatness thereof.”  The Supreme Court has held that a fine is unconstitutionally excessive if its amount “is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the defendant’s offense.”

The Court of Appeals remanded the matter to the district court to consider whether the fines are so “grossly disproportionate” as to be unconstitutional, ruling that there was nothing in the record to justify setting the late-payment penalty at 100% of the original fine.

Now, about that overdue library book….


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