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Illegal Disability Placards Use Can Lead to Serious Charges

We have all seen it.  An athletic person, appearing about twenty-five years old, pulls into a parking space reserved for handicapped parking.  The driver opens the door of the car and jogs into the store, obviously disabled only in his or her judgment. 

Years ago, the press widely carried a story about seven-foot tall Los Angeles Laker Andrew Bynum (remember him?) illegally using a handicapped parking permit and receiving a misdemeanor ticket for this.  We have seen such tickets issued frequently at Del Amo Mall during the holiday season, the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona and at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Why This Article Matters:  Illegal use of a disability placard is not just a parking ticket that can be handled by writing a check.  It is a crime of fraud and may engender special ire from a judge, prosecutor or jury if they have a disabled family member.
Handicapped parking fraud is indeed illegal under Vehicle Code § 4461.  The maximum penalty is six months in jail and a fine of $250 to $1,000, but the real danger is having the ticket lead to much more serious charges or professional licensing consequences if one is a nurse, attorney, medical doctor, insurance broker, etc..  In addition, the court has the discretion to also impose a $1,500 civil penalty on top of the $250 minimum to $1,000 maximum fine.

Disabled Parking Sign
Section 4461 itself prohibits four basis types of misuse of a handicapped parking permit.  They are:
  1. Lending a valid permit issued by the DMV to someone who is not entitled to use it;
  2. Knowingly permitting another person (who is not entitled to use the placard) to use the placard;
  3. Displaying a disabled person parking permit that was not issued by the DMV; or
  4. Driving someone else’s car that displays a valid disability placard and parking in a spot reserved for disabled persons.
An exception to each of these conditions occurs if one is transporting a disabled person.  This exception applies even if one drops off a disabled person at the front door to a store, for example, and then parks in a designated parking spot reserved for disabled persons.

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Handicapped parking fraud often involves other more serious offenses.  For example, one may have a Photo-Shopped parking pass with a forged or counterfeit seal.  This exposes one to a violation of California Vehicle Code § 472, which can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor (a “wobbler”).  If convicted of violating section 472, one can face up to a year in jail if the case is filed as a misdemeanor and up to three years in prison, plus up to a $10,000 fine if the case is filed as a felony.

Handicapped parking fraud often also involves counterfeit disability placards.  This can be filed as a violation of California Vehicle Code § 3363(b).  If one is convicted of violating this misdemeanor code section, the judge can impose a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine between $250 and $1,000.

When someone is using another person’s permit as is it were there own, a police officer may question the user if he or she is disabled.  If one provides false information to the police officer, for example by falsely insisting the placard owner is yourself, a violation of Vehicle Code § 31 occurs.  This is providing false information to a police officer, which carries with it a maximum six month jail term and fine of $1,000.

Lastly, we have seen one case where our client obtained a proper, DMV-issued disability parking placard, but did so based on filing a false application with the DMV, a violation of California Vehicle Code § 20.  Our client had done this once before, so the judge seriously considered imposing the maximum punishment, six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine, but he did not.  We were able to negotiate a plea bargain involving an enormous amount of community service and a fine.

For more information about fraud offenses, click on the following articles:
  1. What Is Unemployment Insurance Fraud?
  2. What Is Embezzlement (Penal Code § 503)?
  3. Multiple Convictions for Embezzlement (Grand Theft) from Employer Proper When Takings Distinguishable
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