On February 16 I picked up my roommate, Taylor Tiefenbach, from the Erik Nielsen
International Airport. His flight was due to arrive at 3:05 p.m. and I was running late. Given this, I decided to park right in front of the terminal, in the area designated, “IMMEDIATE PICK UP AND DROP OFF ONLY”.
Taylor’s plane, it turns out, was also running late, and hadn’t landed yet. So my planned immediate pick-up took longer than expected, and when I returned to my car it had been slapped with a $50 ticket.
Thinking back to the Law 12 course I took about 16 years ago, I remembered that in criminal law two elements must be present for an act to be considered a crime: actus reus, the committing of unlawful act, and mens rea, the intention to commit such an act. In this case, because I had only intended to use the spot for immediate pick up, mens rea was absent, so I went down to the courthouse and pled not guilty. As it turns out, because my parking job was not a criminal offence, mens rea was irrelevant — which I sort of suspected all along.
There were two other reasons for my not guilty plea: first, I thought perhaps my case would drift into some bureaucratic backwater and would never make it to trial, and second, I thought it might be interesting to go to court.
Within a week of entering my plea it became obvious that no one was going to forget about my case. Suddenly, I was standing on my front porch accepting registered mail from the Yukon Department of Justice. This mail contained evidence, including a picture of my empty car right beside the sign that read “IMMEDIATE PICK UP AND DROP OFF ONLY”. I was also sent a transcript of a verdict that a judge had previously rendered in a case similar to mine.
In the days leading up to my April 21 trial date I decided to pin my hopes of an acquittal on a pedantic argument about the nature of the word “immediate”. What counts as “immediate pick up” anyway?
And so, on the day of the trial I took the stand and spoke thusly: The term “immediate” has no proper use independent of its context. For example, though human beings have been on earth for 200,000 years, in the context of the 4.5 billion year history of Earth we can say that humans showed up in the “immediate” past.
A reasonable point, I thought. I continued: I would suggest (in the context of my parking ticket) “immediately” means “without unreasonable delay”. Given this definition, the context and thus the extension of the term “immediately” changed the moment I discovered Taylor’s plane was late. At this point, waiting for Taylor until the plane landed was not an unreasonable delay, and as soon as I could, I left my parking space. Thus I argue that I did in fact use the parking spot for its stated purpose: immediate pick up.
With my argument complete, I walked back to the defendant’s chair and listened as the prosecuting attorney gave her final argument. In it, she mentioned a precedent set by a previous decision (the one I had received but did not read).
I knew I was hooped. The Justice of the Peace found me guilty, but she smiled at me a bit as she did so. I smiled back. After all, I got my day in court; I got to feel like a lawyer.
I still had to pay my $50 ticket, and a $7 surcharge, but at least I got my money’s worth.