No one expects the legal system to be perfect. Courts, police departments, and law firms are run by people, after all. And since most people aren’t even capable of plugging a mouse into a USB port without failing two times first, it’s too much to demand a legal system that works 100% of the time.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect common sense to rule the day when punishments are dished out. Sadly, even this extremely low bar can be impossibly high for some. This is nowhere more obvious than the stupid fines that are sometimes handed out by cash-strapped local governments.
If you doubt that the old maxim “May the punishment fit the crime” is more ideal than reality, check out these 4 stunningly idiotic fines.
1) $300 For Using Sidewalk Chalk
Pint-sized Picassos use brightly-colored sidewalk chalk every single day in America. The unbridled imagination of children turn can a stretch of gray concrete into a mural of rainbows, flowers, and animals. It’s heartwarming to watch children play and the chalk drawings wash off with just a spritz of a hose, so most adults just let kindergarten-aged artists have their fun.
Some curmudgeons in New York’s Park Slope neighborhood, however, don’t share this sunny view of children’s drawings. The art-haters were not too happy when they saw 6-year-old Natalie Shea’s sidewalk masterpiece chalk drawing, so they called a city hotline to complain about “Graffiti.” The New York City Sanitation Department reacted quickly by sending a letter threatening a $300 fine if the chalk-based vandalism wasn’t promptly removed.
No word yet on how they plan on stopping children who terrorize neighborhoods by jump roping or playing hopscotch.
2) $121 For Being Hit By A Police Car
If you were to list the places most safe to walk, “a sidewalk” would crack the top 5. It even has the word “walk” in its name, so it’s practically begging you “Please take a stroll on me. I’ll provide you with an even, straight, and stress-free way to arrive at your destination. Walking is good exercise too!“ It’s the last place you would expect to, say, be run over by a police car.
Yet that extremely reasonable expectation was shattered the moment a marked police cruiser in South Wales jumped the curb and crushed the foot of 28-year-old Daniel Horne. The officer in the vehicle quickly took Horne to a hospital to be treated. He was in agony while doctors worked on his foot, but the biggest pain was yet to come.
The officer stunned Horne by giving him a citation for £80 (which is about $121) for denting the police car. Unsurprisingly, Horne didn’t think he should have to. "There is no way I'm going to pay the fixed penalty fine.” he said “I've spoken to my solicitor and I'm going to fight it all the way."
3) $5,200 For Growing Cabbage
When people are charged with illegally growing plants, it’s usually for something you smoke, not for something you put in coleslaw. But Steve Miller of Clarkston, Georgia discovered that even growing healthy greens can land you in court after he was slammed with a $5,200 fine for his backyard cabbage-growing operation.
Despite the fact that he had been cultivating cabbages for 15 years, the Dekalb County Code Enforcement office saw fit to fine him for a zoning violation in 2010. Miller managed to get his property rezoned so he could continue to grow the vegetables he sold at farmer’s markets and gave away to friends, but the office pressed forward with the fine anyway.
Here’s hoping the garden-hating civil servants who harassed Miller find a toenail in their next salad.
4) $300 For Laughing
Listening to someone let loose with a particularly loud, braying laugh can be irritating. But most people don’t bother silence laughers, particularly if they are chuckling in their own place of residence. A giggler’s home is his castle.
The neighbors of Robert Schiavelli in Long Island are not like most people. Sick of Schiavelli’s intolerably obnoxious laugh (so they claimed), they reported him to police. The coppers tried to put a lid on the guffawer’s unrestrained joviality by charging him with “disturbing the peace,” which means a $300 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.
His lawyer, however, is having none of it. "It's absurd," he told the New York Post. "My client faces 30 days in jail for laughing."
The Death Of Common Sense
Is it really that insane to hope that legal resources will only be used on actual criminals, not tiny artists, pedestrians, gardeners, and laughers?
Yes it is. As long as as desk-bound bureaucrats insist on enforcing the letter of the law, rather than its intent, we will keep seeing people be forced to open up their checkbooks to pay off fines for totally innocent actions.
Logan Strain is a blogger for Instant Checkmate, an easy and convenient way to check on public records.