Ignorance of the law is no excuse for leaving running vehicle unattended, police chief says
A Roseville man named Taylor Nicholas Trupiano received a $128 ticket after he left his car running unattended in his girlfriend's driveway on Jan. 5. After starting the car and then heading inside, he came back a few minutes later to find he had been ticketed, but no police car was in sight. "Vehicle parked in drive at [street address] with keys in ignition, motor running - no one around," reads the ticket. Trupiano took to Facebook under the name “Nick Taylor” to vent his frustration, posting a photo of the ticket with a strongly-worded caption criticizing the officer who issued it.
Trupiano says he had left his car running while he stepped inside his girlfriend's house because it was very cold outside. Roseville police chief James Berlin said that leaving a vehicle running unattended violates a local ordinance. He said the behavior poses a threat to public safety. "You can't do it. You see it all the time, people hop in a running car and steal them. Something bad happens when that occurs," Berlin told Fox 2 Detroit (WJBK-TV).
Although there is no state law that prohibits leaving a running vehicle unattended, Berlin said five to 10 running and unattended cars are stolen in the city every year, driving up insurance costs and the crime rate. "It's common sense," he added. "We can't warn everybody of the law there is [sic]."
That’s true enough. The number of crimes on the books in Michigan is vast, and growing. A Mackinac Center study found that the Michigan penal code contains 918 sections and includes over 3,100 crimes - significantly more than that of neighboring states of Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.
And those are just the state laws. They do not include state or federal regulations and rules or city ordinances. Trupiano's ticket goes to show that Michiganders are still held to the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" principle, even though our lawmakers pass an average of 45 new criminal laws each year and repeal few, if any.
Michiganders probably commit crimes every day and don’t know it when they do. Trupiano should feel fortunate that he received only a civil infraction. At a 2015 panel discussion on "overcriminalization" featuring speakers from the ACLU of Michigan and the Mackinac Center, ACLU attorney Miriam Auckerman said that her organization was representing Michiganders who had received misdemeanor sentences and even done jail time for their inadvertent crimes.
One ALCU client was arrested for trespassing after he chatted in a private parking lot for three minutes. Two college students from Saugatuck did jail time for playing their instruments on the sidewalk. They had violated an ordinance, which they were completely unaware of, prohibiting the playing of music in public spaces.
The ACLU and the Mackinac Center began calling on the Legislature in 2013 to establish standards that would protect well-meaning people from criminal liability. In 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law that protects people from being convicted for activities that they did not know were illegal.
While this is an important step forward, it still leaves Michiganders with a massive, complex scheme of state laws, local ordinances, and administrative and environmental regulations. As Trupiano experienced and his viral Facebook post indicates, these rules may be counterintuitive and inconsistently enforced.
Having so many laws on the books leaves people vulnerable to discretionary governmental prosecution. It erodes respect for the rule of law. It takes a lot of taxpayer dollars to arrest, try and punish people for minor violations, and it diverts law enforcement, court and corrections resources away from truly blameworthy offenses.