A parking ticket in Albuquerque isn’t necessarily expensive, but standing up for yourself is a high-risk, low-reward gamble.
I was recently flung into the city of Albuquerque’s parking citation procedures. I’ve had parking tickets in the past, but this time was different because I decided to take the time to fight it. I knew I had a good chance at success, because in the words of New Mexico’s most notorious litigator Couy Griffin, my defense was “full of the law.”
My citation arrived the afternoon of July 21 for parking in a “media only” parking space next to Civic Plaza. I was covering the trial of Fabian Gonzales, who was charged in connection with the death of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. It was taking place Downtown in 2nd Judicial District Court.
Unable to find my more official-looking Journal parking pass, that morning I scribbled a note declaring I was a reporter for the newspaper and displayed the note on my dashboard. When I returned to my car that evening, there was a ticket pinned to my windshield.
For you sticklers who haven’t had such tickets, a parking citation like mine has a sort of punishment pyramid. I had 10 days to face a fine of $20, for another 10 days the fine was $40, after that it was $60.
I took the citation to Metropolitan Court and requested a court date.
The clerk was flummoxed. Why would I do such a thing?
She told me that I could fork over a paltry $20 and go about my day. If I challenged it and lost, it would be a $60 fine plus up to $77 in court fees, putting the maximum payment at $137 – a harsh penalty for a parking mishap.
That’s not to say it’s not common across the criminal justice spectrum for defendants to face harsher sentences for taking cases to trial instead of taking responsibility and admitting guilt early on during the proceedings. But a sevenfold uptick in the costs for having a day in court?
Scott Cilke, a spokesman for the city, pointed out that more than half of the total doesn’t have anything to do with the city, as it goes to court fees. He said the city wasn’t trying to incentivize or bully citizens into paying the tickets.
There are lots of citations left under windshield wipers in Albuquerque every day. City budget documents for the 2023 fiscal year show that the Municipal Department is estimating it will issue 40,000 parking citations.
Those annoying pieces of paper are expected to siphon about $900,000 from taxpayers into city coffers.
Cilke said that about 23% of Albuquerque parking citations are challenged in court. It wasn’t clear how often the drivers are successful.
Arthur Pepin, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, recently wrote to state lawmakers that magistrate courts and the AOC’s Warrant Enforcement Division collect more than $16 million in court fees statewide each year, and most of that comes from traffic and misdemeanor cases. He asked that most fees in criminal and traffic cases be eliminated, saying they are an unreliable source of revenue for the programs that they fund. He also said the fees have a disproportionate impact on poor people.
As for my case, the gamble to challenge the ticket paid off.
I met with the parking enforcement officer via Zoom before my trial Thursday morning. She requested proof that I work for the Journal, and agreed to dismiss the case when we went before the judge.
My pretrial work – which consisted of me penning a hand-written “motion” to introduce my press pass and coverage of the Gonzales trial – wasn’t necessary in the end.
For those of you who don’t have a designated parking space for your job, you may not want to make such a bet.
Maybe just pay the $20. Or, ya know, feed the meter.
UpFront is a Journal news and opinion column. Comment directly to Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel at firstname.lastname@example.org.