Have you been recently stopped in a mall parking lot and approach by someone in plain clothes accusing you of misusing a handicap placard? These people are not a joke or some random stalker, they are DMV Enforcement Agents. Yes, they exist.

Our law enforcement is tasked with enforcing a seemingly endless list of laws from primarily the Vehicle Code and Penal Code. For those of you that still read books made with paper, if you were to stack them together they would be well over 6 inches thick.  It is nearly impossible for a patrol officer to be able to detect and enforce all the laws in those books. Officers are trained to look for the most common violations as well as directed to look out for others that might be a growing concern. The misuse of handicap placards has yet to be a major issue for them to address. Since local law enforcement is not making a difference, the DMV has decided to take action into their own hands, as if taking photos and suspending licenses was not enough fun.

I was recently at the courthouse in Chula Vista inside the department that handles the misdemeanor cases waiting for my client’s case to be called.  Nothing appeared unusual at first until I hear another case called for violation of Vehicle Code Section 4461(c). This section number got my attention because I did not have it memorized, so I began to listen more intently.   The gentlemen strolled to the podium with his attorney in despair. The judge mentioned something about the misuse of a handicap placard. The defense attorney had to provide a factual basis to the court and he was almost stumped by the violation.  I thought it might have been an isolated incident, but I soon witnessed case after case, for the next 30 minutes the same violation being charged.  There were almost a dozen cases called.

Since all the defendants were appearing at the same time, it was very likely that the tickets were written by the same person or agency on or about the same day. I had not seen a handicap placard enforcement task force before. DUI checkpoints and probation sweeps are common but handicap placards?  When I finished my case, I returned to my office to only have a message waiting for me that a new client was cited for the very same thing.  He was terrified because this violation is being charged as a Misdemeanor, with a possibility of 6 months in jail and fines starting at $250. Being in San Diego and having many residents here on Visas that are applying for citizenship it has caused me great concern that this could affect approval.

I further inquired as to the facts surrounding his violation.  He informed me that a person in plain clothes approached him at the Costco/Ikea parking lot in Mission Valley and flashed a badge at him. He felt intimidated and not free to leave. He didn’t recognize the badge nor given an agency name such as San Diego Police. They had the same look as a mall cop but with more assertiveness.

I have now learned that the DMV is sending out Enforcement Agents.  My first thought was, where is the money for an enforcement task force in the DMV budget when I must stand in line for over an hour to get my car registered at a local DMV office? My second thought was, what if a driver is really disabled or the passenger they are transporting is and they have an old placard, or the wrong one since they have multiple cars in the family with multiple placards?  Do we really want our disabled harassed? Is it reasonable or legal for them to select driver’s that can walk and automatically assume they aren’t disabled?  If it doesn’t smell right it probably is rotten. I am not an ADA attorney, but something doesn’t smell right with these agents running around town. The problem is, the citations are very real.

The agents may have the power to cite you for certain Vehicle Code violations, but they are not sworn officers. They don’t have the right to detain you. You are not required to speak with them.   I have handled hundreds of DMV hearings where driver’s licenses are facing suspension because of their poor driving skills, such as getting a DUI. Those hearing officers and other personnel in the office carry with them a very judgmental authoritarian attitude. This attitude must rub off on the enforcement agents especially when you give them a badge and ticket book. 

The water has gotten very muddy and there are many people out there that need help sorting this out.  If you were approached by someone while shopping and given a citation, this ticket is very real and needs to be addressed. I highly recommend you speak with an attorney. As crazy as this sounds you can go to jail for using a handicap placard that doesn’t belong to you.

California Vehicle Code 4461(c) Basically States the Following:

With the sole exception of being authorized to transport a disabled person(s) as ruled specifically in subsection (b); Any person is prohibited from displaying a disability placard or certificate if the Department of Motor Vehicles did issue that privilege directly to the person who is displaying the placard, or displaying a placard or certificate that is either expired, cancelled or the privilege has been suspended or revoked as to Section 22511.6.  If a person knowingly or intentionally is in direct violation of this section, then he/she will be subject and given a notice of a civil parking violation which can impose a civil sanction or fine of not less the two hundred and fifty dollars and not to exceed one thousand dollars, for this, enforcement shall be superintend as set forth by the procedures in Article 3 (starting with section 40200) of Division 17 Chapter 1 or may by charged and punished as a misdemeanor with like minimum and maximum fines as well as a term of incarceration in a county jail with a maximum term not to exceed six months or both a fine and jail time.