Unlawful Use of a Disability Placard

Unlawful use of a disability placard is a common offense in Los Angeles, CA seemingly because most people do not realize that they are making a mistake. For instance, some would think it is okay to park in a handicapped spot because they are driving a disabled person’s car, they have their placards in possession, or they are running errands on their behalf. Well, this is against the law and that innocent mistake could land you a criminal sentence or fines. If you are in such a situation, we suggest you get in touch with LA Criminal Defense Attorney law firm. Our attorneys have experience working with clients in and around Los Angeles for many years. We understand the court system and all the laws pertaining to the use of disability placards, which makes us very successful in your defense.

Laws against the Unlawful Use of a Disability Placard (Vehicle Code (VC) 4461)

A disability placard is a large tag, normally blue in color, which hangs on the backside mirror of the car of a disabled person. The tag has a symbol of a wheelchair and some people call it a handicapped parking placard. Such placards are given to specific persons who have;

  • Lost one or multiple lower extremities
  • Lost both hands
  • A more serious disability that will need the person to use assistive means or devices
  • A disease or a condition that significantly impairs or hinders mobility
  • A severe vision problem. For example, loss of vision
  • A severe lung disease
  • A severe heart disease
  • For a temporary disabling condition (lasting 6 months or more), a provisional placard may be issued to you

It is against the law of the state of California to misuse a disability placard. Misusing, as explained by different examples below means;

  • You lent it to another person or you knowingly permitted that person to use it

For instance, Sharon’s mother, Rosa got a complication on her leg that she had to be amputated. She, therefore, gets a disability placard for when she wants to go run her errands. However, she tends to send Sharon most of the time to run some errands on her behalf. Sharon likes to borrow a disability placard from her mother so she doesn’t hassle for a parking spot. Sharon is guilty of VC 4461 because she is using the placard inappropriately. Rosa, too, could be guilty if she knew it was wrong lending her daughter the placard but she still did it and permitted her daughter to use it.

  • You displayed a placard that was issued to another person

Suppose your brother is physically handicapped and he always drives with his disability placard displayed on the rear-view mirror of his car. One day, you lend him the car and forget to remove the placard. When you stop at a DUI checkpoint, the police officer notices the displayed placard yet you are not disabled. You could be charged with violating VC 4461 since you were displaying a placard that wasn’t yours.

  • Displaying an expired or revoked placard

For example, Dickon’s father was disabled but he passed on and the DMV had to cancel his disability placard. Dickson inherited his (father’s) car but did not get rid of the placard. He still uses it to obtain parking privileges. If he gets caught, Dickon will be convicted for misusing a disability placard unless he has an experienced attorney to argue his case.

  • Parking in a spot specifically meant for the handicapped

Molly’s husband is blind so he gets a disability placard to acquire parking privileges. Molly sometimes uses her husband’s car to run errands. She usually takes his placard especially when she’s going to a place that is difficult to find parking so she uses it to park in a disabled person’s spot. Molly is guilty of VC 4461 since she is normally not with her husband when she parks in that area.

The above are also the elements of the crime that a prosecutor must prove in court for you to be convicted.

However, if you are transporting a disabled individual, you may use the disability placard that was issued to the person. You are allowed to do this only when in the company of the handicapped person who owns the placard and when you intend to transport the handicapped person. Otherwise, these placards cannot be used by any other person for whatever reason. In some cases, even one disabled person can’t use a placard belonging to another disabled person.


Types of Disability Placards

Disability placards are issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California. The following are the types of placards they issue;

  • Permanent Parking Placards

This is for a person with a perpetual disability. The placard remains valid for 2 years and it expires on 30th June after every two years. No fee is paid to obtain this kind of placard. Once you have it, you don’t need a medical professional’s recertification and the placard doesn’t need renewal. Once it expires a new one will automatically be mailed to you by the DMV using the address on their records.

  • Travel Parking Placards for Residents of California

These types of placards are issued to residents of California that already own permanent placards. It is given free of charge and expires after thirty days from the issue date. They are important as you can use them when you are traveling within California in another person’s vehicle or when you have rented a car in California State.

  • Travel Parking Placards for Non-California Residents

A person who resides in California but is not a citizen of the state and has a perpetual disability placard can also be issued with a travel parking placard which he or she can use within the state. The card is also issued free of charge and it expires ninety days from the date it was issued and on the date that the medical professional indicates on the application.

  • Temporary Parking Placards

This is issued to any person with a temporary disability. It lasts up to six months. The placard expires six months from when it was issued and on the date that the medical professional indicated on the application. The application process requires a minimal fee of $6.00. You can renew the placard for a maximum of six successive times.

Note that it doesn’t have to be the driver who gets issued with this placard. Any family member can have it including a disabled minor. You also do not have to be bound on a wheelchair to qualify for this type of placard. Any serious condition that hinders your movement like an arthritic condition makes you eligible. If you break your leg and it renders you disabled for six months you will be issued with a temporary disability placard. It is unlawful to display a disability placard that was not legally issued to you in your vehicle even if you haven’t parked it.

Closely related to disability placards are the disability parking license plates. These serve the same purpose as permanent disability placards but unlike placards, they are only used by one vehicle that is registered to a permanently disabled individual or to an agency or organization that deals with transporting physically handicapped individuals or veterans.

The DMV also provides license plates for disabled veterans. A disabled veteran will be issued with a license plate if he or she developed a disability during his or her active service in the United States Armed Forces or if he or she is either rated to be 100% disabled, has lost the functioning of either one or multiple extremities, or he or she is perpetually blind.

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How do You Acquire a Disability Placard?

You can apply for a disability placard by filling a registration form issued by California DMV. A medical professional has to sign the certification section on the application before it goes through. For disabled veterans, the section is signed by the Department of the Veterans Affairs.

Where Do Disabled People Park in the State of California?

Disabled persons can park in the normal parking spots as well as the places provided below.

  • Parking spaces that have the International Symbol of Access, normally a wheelchair symbol
  • On-street metered spaces which are usually free of charge
  • Areas that require a merchant or a resident permit
  • Close to green curb areas. These places have no time restrictions
  • Close to blue curb areas. These are only authorized for people with disabilities

They are, however, not allowed to park near red, yellow and the white curbs, or in the cross-marked spaces that border disabled parking spots. Red curbs are no standing, stopping or parking zones, yellow curbs are zones where commercial vehicles load and offload while white curbs are passenger loading or off-loading zones. Cross marked areas are wheelchair lift or wheelchair access areas.

Is it Lawful to use a Non-California Disability Placard in California?

The law of the state of California permits disabled individuals from other states to use non-California placards in the same way the California permanent disability placards are used. If you do not have a permanent or a non-California placard, you can apply for a temporary placard from the DMV free of charge. A temporary placard is necessary especially if you don’t drive to your place of residence probably because you live in a place with good public transport or if you have the disabled plates but you are not bringing your car to California. The temporary placard expires after 90 days. To apply for it, you need the same requirements as in other temporary placards.

Who Certifies a Disability in California?

Disability in the state of California is certified by medical professionals. These professionals must either be;

  • Licensed physicians, physician assistants, surgeons, nurse practitioners, or certified nurses and midwives who know your disease or your disability,
  • Licensed optometrists, surgeons or physicians who specialize in eye diseases, or
  • Licensed chiropractors for individuals who have lost one or multiple lower extremities or if they have a major limitation in using them.

As earlier stated, you need certification from a medical professional for you to be issued with a disability placard. However, there is an exception for a group of individuals who would still get their placards without medical certification. They include;

  • Individuals that have lost their hands and their lower extremity who present themselves at the DMV to apply for the disability placard,
  • Persons who already have permanent placards and they are applying either for a temporary, travel, or any other type of placard, or
  • Veterans because they already have certification from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicating that they are disabled.

Penalties for Violating VC 4461

In California, misuse of a disability placard is a wobbler offense. This means it could be charged on grounds of civil infraction i.e. parking ticket offense or as a misdemeanor crime. The prosecutor’s decision to criminally charge you will depend on the seriousness of the crime and whether or not you have any history of such crimes or any other crimes.

  • Criminal Penalties

This is a misdemeanor offense whose possible consequences include a maximum county jail sentence of six months, a fine ranging from $250 to $1,000 or both. Alternatively, you can be subjected to a 3 years’ summary probation. If you have been sentenced to summary probation, you may be subjected to paying a fine, do community service, attend counseling or do all of the above.

  • Civil Penalties

When charged as a civil infraction, the crime subjects you to a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $1,000. If you don’t pay the fine, you will face additional charges of failure to appear/pay for a traffic citation under VC 40508. These charges carry the same penalties as those of VC 4461.

Additional Fines

Whether it is charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor, the court has the right to order the defendant to pay additional fines which do not exceed $1,500. This fine is normally charged on people who misuse disability placards to park in a disabled spot. It is rarely imposed against a person who permits another person to use their placards. Los Angeles courts also have the right to impose a maximum fine of $100.

Common Legal Defenses

When facing charges of misuse of a disability placard, your attorney can argue a number of defenses that could make your charges dismissed. They include;

  1. You did not knowingly allow the usage of the placard

You are not guilty of these charges if you unknowingly let another person use your disability placard. For instance, someone could have taken the placard without permission from the owner. You will be convicted if you knowingly gave out the card for a reason that is not transporting you.

  1. It was not an actual misuse of the placard

As we have seen earlier, parking in a disabled person’s spot is not an offense as long as the person who owns the placard is with you in the vehicle or he or she is close by or you were transporting a disabled person who owns the placard. Thus, your attorney could argue that you were displaying the placard for either of these reasons. Note that the disabled person doesn’t need to be in the vehicle at that particular time for it to be lawful. You might have just dropped them at a place nearby.

For example, Louisa has an arthritic back for which she frequently has to go for a doctor’s checkup. Due to her condition, she applies for a disability placard. Even after acquiring the placard, she still can’t drive herself for longer hours and therefore asks her son (Tim) to drive her whenever she goes for these checkups. After dropping her mom at the hospital, Tim then goes to park the car at the handicapped spot. Just as he is getting out of the car, a cop sees him and in the eyes of the cop, Tim does not have any disability. The cop issues Tim with a ticket alleging to have broken the law. Tim is not guilty in this situation since he was transporting Louisa who is nearby.

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VC 4461 and Related Offenses

  1. Falsifying or Forging a Disability Placard

This is a misdemeanor offense that is punishable under Vehicle Code 4463(b). According to this Vehicle Code, it is an offense to counterfeit, falsify or forge a disability placard, to knowingly issue or try to issue as valid a forged, counterfeited or a falsified disability placard or to possess, acquire, offer to sell or sell a forged disability placard. This crime carries a potential penalty of a maximum of six months county jail sentence, a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. The court may not suspend these penalties like what is done with certain misdemeanors.

  1. Displaying a Forged, Falsified or a Counterfeit Disability Placard

According to California VC 4463(c), it is illegal to either display or to allow another person to display a falsified, forged or counterfeited disability placard with the intention of committing fraud. This is a wobbler offense that can be punishable either as a non-criminal infraction or a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor charges carry a possible penalty of a maximum of six months county jail sentence, a minimum $250 and a maximum $1,000 in fines or both. Non-criminal infraction charges are punishable by a minimum $250 and a maximum $1,000 civil fine.

  1. Forging a Public Seal

This is stated in the Penal Code (PC) 472. It is against the law to own and to deliberately conceal a forged seal of any government organization with the intention of using it for fraudulent engagements. This crime can be charged alongside the misuse of a disability placard. If you forge DMV documents to make it appear like you legally possess a disability placard, you will be legally charged with this offense. Forging any public seal is a wobbler offense in California. Wobbler offenses can be either felonies or misdemeanors. In case you committed a misdemeanor, you will be subjected to a maximum of a one-year jail sentence or a maximum fine of $1,000 or both. Felony charges carry potential consequences of sixteen (16) months, 2 or 3 years state prison imprisonment, a fine not exceeding $10, 000 or both punishments.

  1. Providing a Peace/Police Officer with False Information

This offense is punishable under VC 31. You will be guilty of this crime if you lie to a police officer about the rightful owner of a disability placard. This too can be charged alongside misuse of a placard.  The state of California treats this a misdemeanor offense which is punishable by a maximum of six months county jail sentence, or a maximum of $1,000 in fines or both penalties.

  1. Service Dog Fraud

It is an offense according to Penal Code 365.7 for a person to falsely and knowingly represent themselves as the trainer or owner of a signal, service or guide dog. This is a misdemeanor offense that carries possible penalties of a maximum of six months county jail sentence or a maximum fine of $1,000 or both.

  1. Making Untruthful Statements to the DMV

Under VC 20, it is unlawful to deliberately make any false statement or to conceal facts of any registration document you file with the Department of Motor Vehicles in California. These documents include a disability placard application. This is a misdemeanor offense and if found guilty, you will be subjected to a maximum of six months county jail sentence or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both punishments.