You've heard the story of the woman who got out of a parking ticket because the parking sign was missing a comma. How often would that really work?
Earlier this month the Ohio Court of Appeals found that a parking ticket issued to Andrea Cammelleri was unenforceable. The judge ruled that Ms. Cammelleri’s pickup truck wasn’t covered by a law that applied to "any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle." That's "motor vehicle camper" rather than "motor vehicle, camper” as the village where the pickup was parked tried to argue. The village lost and the Internet went wild with a discussion of the “missing” comma.
Was the judge right? Probably.
The court’s role as the guardian of the law played a major role in the result. The parking law Ms. Cammelleri was accused of violating is a statute, a written rule created by some act of the legislature and it’s the courts job to determine the law makers’ intent and enforce the law. Intent is usually obvious from the words in the law. Also a court looks at the whole law and not just the individual words or phrases. In other words, a court uses the plain meaning of the words unless they could mean more than one thing, or unless applying the language literally leads to an absurd result. So what the people who wrote the law meant rather than what the actual words say, only matters when the law isn’t clear.