There's potential good news for Los Angeles car owners due to an attempted federal class-action suit claiming that, while fines for people parked at expired parking meters might pass constitutional muster, “excessively” high fines do not.
Lead plaintiff Jesus Pimentel ran up a $63 expired parking meter fine, which is bad enough, but the city gave him only two weeks to pay before doubling the fine. Then there was a $28 "delinquent" fee and a $21 "collection" fee. Add it all up and Pimentel was out $175, which he thinks is so excessive it's downright unconstitutional, Courthouse News Service reported.
Besides the money, Pimentel was miffed when the DMV threatened to withhold his car's registration if he didn't pay up, the city threatened to boot and impound his car while also holding out the possibility of civil litigation, damage to his credit rating and garnishing of his state tax refund. This, says Pimentel, violated the Due Process clause.
Excessive fines are forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which says, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Due process is covered in Amendments Five and Fourteen.
Of course, banning “excessive” bail leaves room to debate: just how much is “excessive,” anyway? Here's how Courthouse News Service reporter Robert Kahn summed it up:
Hauling out his calculator, Pimentel's learned counsel Donald G. Norris, with Norris & Galanter, points out that Pimentel's ultimate fine was nearly 175 percent the daily median per capita income of an Angeleno (using 2009 figures from City-Data.com).
The median per capita income in L.A. that year as $26,096; given 160 work days a year, the daily wage comes to $100.37. Pimentel's $175 fine, then, constitutes 174.4 percent of an Angeleno's median daily wage.
And with the median per capita income for Latino Angelenos in 2009 $13,542 - or $52.08 a day for 260 work days - Pimentel's fines come to 336 percent of the daily median income for a Latino Angeleno.