Can Your Neighbor Give You A Parking Ticket? Somerville Officials Considering It

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The city of Somerville could issue tickets for illegal parking based on a photo sent by a witness who doesn’t work for the city, a lawyer said.

City councilors haven’t decided yet whether they want to do that. But the Somerville Legislative Matters Committee, a subcommittee of the city council, asked for the legal opinion from the city solicitor’s office.

“My understanding of the question you were asking was whether, for example, the city could issue a ticket in reliance essentially upon the hearsay of the resident, who would do an affidavit and also potentially … have a photo or picture, something along those lines. And where I landed legally was that there is a — in my view — a legal basis to do that. And we could do it,” said David Shapiro, deputy city solicitor, during a meeting of the Legislative Affairs Committee on Tuesday, September 19.

It’s not clear what a judge would do if a car owner who got such a parking ticket challenged it, he added.

“I will say that it does present an evidentiary issue in the court, as far as the evidence goes. But in my opinion, legally, we can do it. But once again, what a court would do with it, I could never guarantee. But I feel comfortable as a general matter that we are allowed to, in an administrative type hearing, admit hearsay — you know, something that is not a firsthand observation,” Shapiro said.

City councilor Lance Davis noted that city officials are already looking into using a solar-powered stick that can generate an automatic parking ticket as soon as a parking meter has expired, something the subcommittee addressed earlier in the same meeting. City councilors have been assured the city can put the automatic-parking-meter-ticket solar stick into operation.

The “crux” of the resident-generated illegal-parking-ticket question, Davis said, “is whether we can benefit from the efforts of folks in the streets who provide some sort of evidence of a violation and whether we can use that.”

“Why, you know, why might a court look at that differently than an actual human being submitting a photograph of a scenario?” asked Davis, who is also the chairman of the subcommittee.

The deputy city solicitor said a judge might consider a violation issued by a parking enforcement officer more reliable.

“Potentially it would be that in the case, for example, why would they look, for example, at a duly trained and qualified traffic control officer who takes photos differently than somebody who could potentially — but it’s more of an issue of cross-examination, right?” Shapiro said. “Because my understanding, and I looked at this thing a couple of years ago, and not being an expert on computers, I must admit, but when I looked at this issue, there was an issue that potentially somebody could take a photo on their phone, as I understood it, and put the wrong date on it. I don’t understand it, quite frankly, but I’m told that you can take your phone, take a picture, and basically misdate it. All right? So, if you can do that, potentially you have somebody who’s a resident who will be cross-examined much more vigilantly than presumably a city employee who does these things all the time. That’s what I see as the issue.”


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