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Getting off on a Technicality: The Importance of Grammar in Law

October 21, 2015 Hastings and Hastings

No one likes getting a parking ticket. It seems like a minor violation and usually comes with a major cost. No one can ever get out of them, I mean, the no-parking sign is usually right there! Well, an Ohio resident named Andrea Cammelleri recently had her parking ticket thrown out in the Ohio Court of Appeals, all on the basis of a grammar mistake!

The Ticket

Ms. Cammelleri parked her pickup truck on a small village road, left it overnight, and returned the next day. When she came back there was a parking ticket tucked comfortably under her windshield wiper. Ms. Cammelleri was understandably dismayed. It didn’t appear to be an overwhelmingly busy street. What parking law had she violated?!

Ms. Cammelleri had been cited for violating a law which stated:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to park upon any street in the Village, any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours”

She spent a brief moment reading over the law, shook her head, and decided she had a case. She wasn’t going to take this parking ticket laying down!

The Case

So what had Ms. Cammelleri’s keen mind seen in the wording of the law that made her believe she could have this parking ticket overturned? Well, she had looked at the list of prohibited vehicles, and not seen the word truck listed anywhere. Traditionally, trucks are categorized as motor vehicles, but motor vehicles were not listed either. What was mentioned in the wording of the law was “motor vehicle camper(s).” That sounded like something entirely different to Ms. Cammelleri and following her appeal, the court agreed with her!

A Missing Comma

Missing from the wording of the law was an innocent little comma. What the law writers had probably meant to say was “motor vehicle, camper”; however, what they had actually said was “motor vehicle camper.” That missing comma made all the difference. They had wanted to target two different types of vehicles in the law but their writing only listed one. Grammar matters! Next time you find yourself thinking commas are unimportant or capital letter unnecessary, remember the case of Andrea Cammelleri.