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Editorials
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Thursday, June 20, 2002



[ OUR OPINION ]

Disabled-parking law
must be enforced


THE ISSUE

Police accuse judges of being too lenient in cases of motorists accused ot parking in stalls reserved for the disabled.


COMPUTER records of people certified to use disabled-parking stalls were supposed to improve prosecution of motorists illegally parking in the stalls, but indications of their effectiveness are discouraging. Police and prosecutors need to make use of the new data system, created Jan. 1, and make a record of the judges who refuse to convict able-bodied encroachers.

Last year, counties had no way of keeping track of motorists who had been issued disability parking placards. Also, a person who had been issued a placard could claim to have lost it and be issued a replacement. One man is said to have been given five replacements in one week and have sold them for $100 apiece.

Two-thirds of the 3,306 contested citations last year were thrown out of court, perhaps partly because of the inability of law-enforcement authorities to determine whether the accused was certified to park in disability stalls. Authorities now have that ability, but still were unable to obtain convictions in 112 of 161 contested citations in Ewa District Court from April 26 to May 6 this year.

Sgt. Bart Canada, supervisor of the Honolulu Police Department's Disabled Parking Enforcement Program, blames judges for failing to ask the Motor Vehicle and Licensing Division for proof that the defendant had been issued a disabled-parking placard. Canada also complains that judges dismiss citations without asking for the defendant's identification card to verify the issuance of a disabled-parking decal.

It is not the role of judges to conduct such investigations, nor should they have to ask for evidence supporting either side in a case. Police and prosecutors have the burden of assembling evidence proving their case, and defendants have the right to introduce evidence to the contrary. The job of police and prosecutors may have been difficult in these cases before the existence of the database, but that should no longer present a problem.

Canada suggests that the severity of the fine -- a minimum of $250 and up to $500 -- is a main reason why judges dismiss citations. Judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa maintains that judges "consider the evidence presented and the relevant law and not the severity of the penalty, including the amount of the fine, when determining whether or not a case should be upheld or dismissed."

The Legislature has approved a bill that would lower the minimum fine to $100. Governor Cayetano should veto the measure, as he has promised. Canada agrees that lowering the fine would lead to even more abuse. More effective enforcement and prosecution of the present law would lessen the abuse.



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