It’s two years ago, and I’m running late for a meeting at my first Adult Job. Rush hour traffic in Toronto is something I’m experiencing for the first time, and finding parking downtown is equally maddening. I spot that mythical beast of wonder—a parallel parking spot—carefully park my car there, and run.
When the meeting is over, I return to move my car (there’s a one-hour parking limit, of course), and see two gigantic disability signs on both sides of my car, pointing directly to it. I’m screwed—there’s a ticket on my windshield. I imagine the parking enforcement officer’s eyes must have lit up with dollar signs when he or she spotted my car without a permit. The damage: $450, which is a hefty fee for being an asshole, but I suppose it’s warranted.
I was dating a paralegal at the time who had traffic court connections. This is all specifically applicable to Ontario traffic court laws, but U.S. drivers have found similar success when showing up in court. I was told that I had three options if I wanted to contest the ticket (contesting the ticket, for the most part, means pleading guilty with a reduced fine).
Option 1: Contest the ticket and hope that it takes more than a year from the date of the ticket for your court date to be processed. If it’s been longer than a year, there is a form that you can fill out, and the fine will be cleared. My court date was within the timeline. Option 1 is out.
Option 2: Show up at court and hope that the parking officer does not show up. If he does not show up, the fine is cleared. I was told that since it’s a large fine, the officer is very likely to show. My paralegal friend was actually wrong about this. When you plead guilty with a reduced fine, you forfeit the need for the officer to show up in court. Option 2 is out.
The third option is, I think, the most likely outcome for anybody who contests a parking ticket. You originally have something like two weeks to pay the fine, or you can line up with all the other suckers at the parking violations office and ask to plead guilty with a reduced fine. I arrived at the office at 7:45 a.m. in time for 8 a.m. opening and was able to make it to work in time for my usual 9 a.m. start. I feel this is an important point to make because time taken off work, costs to park at traffic court, and so forth have to be weighed against the ultimate benefit. I saw people contesting $30 tickets, and I’m not sure that’s really worth it.
I eventually received my court date and present myself on the appropriate day. Here, I had to take the morning off work but I was able to make up for the lost hours later in the week.
Here is how traffic court worked: The prosecutor went around asking people what they were hoping to get. In my case (anything, god ANYTHING), she told me she would be asking for the legal minimum fine which was $300. We went into the courtroom, and the judge called each case up one at a time. He had a list of questions that you’re basically supposed to answer yes to, and if you go off script, the judge clarifies with slight exasperation. “Are you pleading guilty to this?” (“Yes,” should be your answer.)
I had my whole story ready to go, but it seemed to me that having a story was largely unnecessary. My paralegal friend said as much—that just by showing up in court, your fine would be reduced by half. Actually, it was more like two-thirds. Most commonly, $30 tickets were reduced to $10. Something I learned that day was that FedEx and other delivery companies employ a person whose job is to show up in court so they can have their parking tickets reduced. This person (a paralegal?) did not state any case, or give any story, they just stood up, presented ten tickets, and had them all reduced to a fraction of the original cost. Business secrets!
My case was a little different. I had the highest fine in the courtroom. The prosecutor asked for the legal minimum fine of $300. The judge looked at me and said, “$450—that’s a very large amount of money, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
He asked me if I wanted to explain what had happened, and I gave him my sob story: new at work, first big job, late for a meeting, run run run. Then he lectured me a little bit.
“You know, a parking officer can’t know the circumstances of your situation, those circumstances really don’t matter.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” I said, putting on my shameface.
“And you will be more careful in the future?”
And he reduced my fine to $200! Success! Two hundred dollars is still a large amount of money, but I walked out of that court room with a big smile on my face anyway.
In addition to having my fine reduced by more than half, there’s an added benefit to contesting a ticket that you’re unable to pay in the moment: You’re given over a year to scrape together the cash. First, you’re spared the amount of time it takes to set up the court date. Then, once that date arrives, the judge provides various payment options: Pay right now, one month, or two months. In my case, I put away $450 in a savings account over the course of a few months after I received the ticket, because I was determined that my future self would not have to pay for my present self’s idiocy.
So in the end, it was like I had a bonus $250, and I didn’t learn my lesson at all! (No, I still learned my lesson).
Alissa Powell lives in Toronto and occasionally has to drive for work. She has no web presence save for a plethora of incriminating comments sprinkled across the Awl network.