Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
January 10, 1990
Mr. Eliot J. Dober
Office of Protection and Advocacy
60B Weston Street
Hartford, CT 06120
Dear Mr. Dober:
In your letter of July 12, 1989, you requested our opinion regarding the meaning of certain provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. e 14-253a, which mandates that parking spaces be established and reserved for handicapped persons. Among this statute's requirements are that such parking spaces be specially arranged and marked, and that they be used only by blind persons or persons whose ability to walk is seriously impaired. Section 14-253a also provides that a violation of any of its provisions constitutes an infraction.
We understand from your letter and conversations with your staff members that the officers of numerous local police departments refuse to issue summonses to unauthorized persons parked in spaces for the handicapped unless such spaces are correctly constructed and designated. You have further informed us that many officers also refuse to enforce the portions of Section 14-253a that establish the proper arrangement and markings for handicapped spaces. Because you have received complaints from handicapped persons about parking problems, and because you have a statutory duty not only to investigate such complaints but also to act as an advocate for the handicapped, Conn. Gen. Stat. e46a-11, you have asked us the following questions:
1. Must handicapped parking spaces be set up to the letter of the law before people who park there illegally can be ticketed? If not, what are the limits to police
enforcement, if any, when the markings, space location or signage vary from the requirements of C.G.S. e14-253a (e) and (f)? Do these variations render C.G.S. e14-253a (e) and (f) unenforceable by the police?
2. Do state and local police have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, under C.G.S. e14-253a (k) to enforce C.G.S. e14-253a (e) and (f) and penalize those who do not have their signs or handicapped spaces established pursuant to the statutory requirements? Does a violation of C.G.S. e14-253a (e) and (f) also constitute an infraction,enforceable by state or local police?
With respect to your first question, it is our opinion that unauthorized persons who park in spaces for the handicapped may be fined even if the spaces do not meet the applicable statutory provisions regarding size and location. Such persons may not be ticketed, however, if the spaces do not conform to those requirements of Section 14-253a (f) that notify the public that the spaces are reserved for the physically disabled.
In response to your second question, we conclude that a property owner.s failure to establish and properly mark handicapped parking spaces is an infraction.1
Conn. Gen. Stat. e 14-253a sets forth a detailed scheme to alleviate the parking problems which handicapped persons commonly encounter. Subsections (a) through (c) of this section permit handicapped individuals to obtain special identification cards and license plates for their vehicles. Subsection (d) provides in part:
Only those motor vehicles displaying identification issued pursuant to subsection (a) or (b) of this section shall be authorized to park in public or private areas reserved for exclusive use by handicapped persons. Any motor vehicle parked in violation of the provisions of this subsection for the third or subsequent time shall be subject to being towed from such designated area. Such vehicle shall be impounded until payment for any fines incurred is received.
Subsection (e) designates for both public and private parking lots the number of spaces that must be allotted to handicapped persons. This section also states:
All such spaces shall be designated as reserved for exclusive use by handicapped persons and identified by the use of signs in accordance with subsection (f) of this section. Such parking spaces shall be adjacent to curb cuts or other unobstructed methods permitting sidewalk access to a blind or handicapped person and shall be fifteen feet wide, including three feet of cross hatch, or parallel to a sidewalk. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply in the event a municipal ordinance or the state building code imposes more stringent requirements as to the size of the private parking area in which special parking spaces are required or the number of special parking spaces required.
Subsection (f), to which subsection (e) refers, further requires:
Parking spaces designated for the handicapped on or after October 1, 1979, shall be as near as possible to a building entrance or walkway and shall be fifteen feet wide including three feet of cross hatch, or parallel to a sidewalk on a public highway. Such spaces shall be designated by above grade signs with white lettering against blue background and shall bear the words "handicapped parking state permit required" and "violators will be fined." Such sign shall also bear the international symbol of access.
Finally, subsection (k) mandates that "Violation of any provision of this section shall be an infraction, provided the fine for violation of the provisions of subsection (d) shall not be less the eighty-five dollars."
In analyzing the provisions of Section 14-253a, quoted above, we recognize that a penal statute should be strictly construed. State v. White, 204 Conn. 410, 424, 528 A.2d 811, 819 (1987). We are also aware, however, that "the rule of strict construction must be balanced against the competing interest of effectuating the public policy" of the regulatory scheme at issue. Rhodes v. Hartford, 201 Conn. 89, 95, 513 A.2d 124, 128 (1986)
The clear intent of Section 14-253a is to make parking easy and convenient for physically disabled persons. To this end, the General Assembly has declared that handicapped parking spaces of specific dimensions must be established in parking areas of certain sizes, and that such spaces must be placed as close as possible to building entrances and curb cuts. These particular requirements of Section 14-253a directly affect the handicapped: if there are too few designated spaces in a given parking lot, or if the spaces are too small or too far away, the handicapped are inconvenienced.
Nonhandicapped persons, therefore, should not be excused from honoring handicapped parking restrictions simply because the spaces are deficient in these respects. In the criminal case of State v. Archambault, 146 Conn. 605, 153 A.2d 451 (1959) the Connecticut Supreme Court asserted: "[I]t is not the purpose of the rule of strict construction to enable a person to avoid the clear import of a law through a mere technicality. To enforce the rule beyond its purpose would. be to exalt technicalities above substance. Id. at 607-08, 153 A.2d at 452. For this reason, we conclude that unauthorized individuals parked in handicapped spaces may be fined even if the spaces do not conform to the statutory specifications, noted above, regarding size and location.
We further note, however, that the General Assembly has also dictated that certain actions be taken to alert nonhandicapped persons that particular spaces are reserved, and that unauthorized use of such spaces may result in penalties. The requisite forms of notice, defined in Section 14-253a (f), include the use of cross hatch markings, as well as the posting of above-grade signs that display the international symbol of access and bear the words "'handicapped parking state permit required' and 'violators will be fined' " in white lettering on a blue background. The reason for strictly construing penal statutes is to ensure that such laws "give a clear warning to all potential violators of exactly what behavior is forbidden," United States v. Gallant, 570 F. Supp. 303, 311 (S.D.N.Y. 1983). When a penal statute explicitly enumerates the warnings that must be provided, these mandates should be stringently followed. In this instance the General Assembly has clearly established what must be done to make nonhandicapped persons aware of the location of handicapped parking spaces and the consequences of violating handicapped parking restrictions. It is our opinion, therefore, that police officers may not ticket unauthorized persons parked in handicapped spaces if the signs and markings on the spaces do not conform to the notification requirements of Section 14-253a (f).
In answer to your second question, we advise you that police officers may issue summonses to property owners who fail to construct or mark handicapped parking
spaces, as required by Section 14-253a. Subsections (e) and (f) dictate that handicapped parking spaces "shall" be located in particular places and designated in specific ways. "The use of the word 'shall' by the legislature connotes that the performance of the statutory requirements is mandatory rather than permissive." Caulkins v. Petrillo, 200 Conn. 713, 717, 513 A.2d 43, 45 (1986). Moreover, subsection (k) expressly states that "[v]iolation of any provision of this section shall be an infraction...." (emphasis added). Subsections (e), (f) and (k), considered together, clearly show that failure to establish handicapped parking spaces according to legal specifications is punishable. "Where the language used by the legislature is plain and unambiguous, ... the statute will be applied as its words direct." Warner v. Leslie-Elliott Constructors, Inc., 194 Conn. 129, 135, 479 A.2d 231, 235 (1984).
As a final point, we note that the terms of the infraction schedule published by the Superior Court, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. e 51-164m,2 support our conclusion about this matter. The schedule effective July 1, 1989, includes "improper handicapped parking facilities" in its list of infractions. The total amount which currently must be paid for such a violation of Section 14-253a is ninety-six dollars. Infractions Schedule' Penalties to be Accepted by the Centralized Infractions Bureau (July 1, 1989), p.12.
We hope that the analysis set forth above is helpful to you. Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.
Very truly yours,
CLARINE NARDI RIDDLE
Heather J. Wilson
Assistant Attorney General
1 The Attorney General has no criminal jurisdiction and our advice is not binding on the state's prosecuting officers, see 22 Conn Op. Atty. Gen. 452 (1942), 72 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. (07/21/72) (advice to Hon. John R. Manson, Commissioner, State s Attorney has reviewed this opinion. Specific questions regarding prosecutions under e14-253a should be directed to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney or the local State's Attorney's office.
2 Conn. Gen. Stat. e 51-164m (a) states in part: "The judges of the superior court shall establish and maintain a schedule of fines to be paid for the violation of the sections of the general statutes deemed to be infractions...."