The Washington Post

Two-space parkers: Are they criminals?

These cars seem to be doing the right thing: Parking in one spot only. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Drivers who park in two spots.

You’ve seen them straddling two spaces at Costco, the movie theater, the coffee shop, any lot with easy-to-see white lines — two wheels in one spot, two wheels in the other. I’d hate to see my blood pressure level when spotting these cars. They drive me insane.

“Those criminals,” we parking space seekers say to ourselves.

But are they actual criminals?

Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals recently had a chance to decide.

The question came up in the matter of Gilmore vs. Maryland. Bruce W. Gilmore, while visiting a liquor store in Prince George’s County, “parked his car so that it was centered over one of the lines of a parking space, and, as a consequence, his vehicle occupied two parking spaces,” the court said.

Oh, Bruce.

A county police officer saw the straddling and asked Gilmore why he did that, to which Gilmore replied that he didn’t realize he had done so.

This is where it gets tricky: One thing led to another, and Gilmore wound up being searched, and the officer found a knife and drugs on him. Gilmore was arrested. He fought the charges, in part, by saying the search was unjustified because there had been no actual traffic offense in the first place.

At a hearing to suppress the evidence, a prosecutor asked the officer the following question: “Is double parking in the liquor store parking lot a traffic offense?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you recall what specific offense that is?”

“It’s parked in a double space.”

But during closing arguments at the hearing, Gilmore’s attorney noted that “there is no ordinance or citation in the parking citations on what is a parking violation that indicates that parking in more than one spot is a violation of any parking ordinance,” adding that in “no place within the regulation is parking in more than one spot enumerated.”

The trial court judge didn’t buy the argument. Gilmore was convicted.

The appeals court did not agree.

In a 17-page ruling, the court said that the officer “used the phrase ‘double parking’ to describe the parking violation he witnessed, but was unable to identify the provision in the code that prohibits occupying two spaces. Nor was the prosecutor who represented the State at the suppression hearing able to cite a provision that prohibits occupying two spaces.”

The court reversed the conviction, finding that “the officer who detained appellant in the parking lot did so under the mistaken belief that there was a statutory provision which made it illegal to park one’s vehicle straddling a line of the pavement. This was a mistake of law.”

And there you have it: Two-space parkers in Maryland are not criminals — technically.

I suspect humanity disagrees.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.


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