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The Trouble with Tickets

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"I am not, technically, a lawyer, but I did watch numerous episodes of 'Perry Mason', and on one occasion, when I got a traffic ticket, I represented myself in court, successfully pleading nolo contendere (Latin, meaning "Can I pay by check?")."
Dave Barry, "Courtroom Confessions"

A good bet in a Sitcom is that when a character gets ticketed by a cop for a relatively minor traffic violation, and on some occasions, by a traffic camera, he won't shrug, say "Ah well," and pay the fine. He will decide to take it to traffic court, fight in the name of the little guy, and do his best Perry Mason/Matt Murdock/Phoenix Wright impersonation. He'll spend more money fighting the ticket than just paying it off and going about his business.

See also It's the Principle of the Thing and Courtroom Episode.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the final issue of the tie-in comic of C.O.P.S., the C.O.P.S. finally arrest Big Boss — over the violent overreaction he and his gang have over the police showing up to serve them a court summons regarding some unpaid parking tickets.

    Comic Strips 
  • In For Better or for Worse, Elly gets a ticket after she collides with another car that came out of nowhere. Feeling she's not at fault, she decides to go to court to fight it. John doesn't see the point and asks why, to which she responds "For the sake of argument!"
  • Roger in FoxTrot gets a parking ticket. His wife wants to just pay the fine, but he wants to do a Perry Mason impression.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the very silly short film So You Think You're Not Guilty, goofball Joe McDoakes is ticketed for running a stoplight. It wasn't his fault — the light was malfunctioning — so Joe refuses the chance to plead guilty and pay $2 and go home. Instead he insists on a trial, and, after a series of mishaps, gets a 10-year prison sentence.
  • In the film TRON, it's implied that Kevin Flynn has a few unpaid parking tickets when he is arrested after being zapped into the computer world; he thinks they are arresting him for not paying his fines.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in the Small Wonder episode "Vicki for the Defense": Ted parks illegally in hope of teaching Jamie a lesson about not perverting justice, and doesn't resist arrest. Unfortunately, he has a little trouble actually getting a ticket.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld, Newman gets ticketed for speeding. He makes up a story about having to save a friend from taking his own life because he couldn't become a banker and tries to get Kramer to follow along with it.
  • In one episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Lois fights a traffic conviction in the face of clear video evidence against her, because she refuses to admit that she could be in the wrong. When she finally accepts the verdict, Hal and the boys find a tape shot from another angle that exonerates her, but destroy it (and strong-arm the security guard that showed it to them into staying silent) since they're tired of her always being right.
  • When Danny Tanner does this on Full House, he wins the case, but gets another ticket for where he parked during Court.
  • A sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus finds the defendant in a courtroom giving a stirring, impassioned, rather long-winded plea for his acquittal, only to have the judge chime in, "It's only a bloody parking offense".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Happens as a Funny Foreground Incident in the Musical Episode "Once More With Feeling" where a woman actually sings her excuses to avoid a ticket.
    I've been having a bad, bad day
    Come on won't you put that pad away
    I'm asking you please no
    It isn't right, it isn't fair
    There was no parking anywere
    I think that hydrant wasn't there
    Why can't you let it go?
    I think I've paid more than my share
    I'm just a poor girl don't you care?
    Hey I'm not wearing underwear.
  • The Big Bang Theory: The episode "The Excelsior Acquisition" sees Sheldon going to traffic court after he was caught by a red light camera in Penny's car while driving her to the hospital in a previous episode. He pisses off the judge by refusing to admit he did anything wrong and pay the fine, so ends up getting locked up for an hour.
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Mister Rogers, of all people, went to court for a parking ticket (he didn't have change for the meter and by the time he returned with the money, he'd already been ticketed). He's unhappy with the situation, so Episode 1210 begins with an unusually sour Mister Rogers singing the opening theme, which is played in an unusually staccato-ish and overall downbeat manner, and instead of changing into a sweater and sneakers, he fiddles with said parking ticket. He explains to the boys and girls how down he feels. The judge does not fine him, since Mr. Rogers had obtained change and intended to feed the meter, but suggests that Mister Rogers remembers change the next time he will be parking downtown.
  • Parking Wars on A&E takes this trope into a Real Life setting. The reality series follows parking enforcement officers in various cities as they ticket illegally parked cars, as well as immobilize vehicles whose owners have unpaid traffic tickets. They also give screen time to the hapless drivers who try to fight the officers (sometimes physically) or desperately scramble to resolve the infractions and get their cars back.
  • Person of Interest
    • One episode featured a guy who once wrote a 78-page legal brief to get out of paying a ticket (the problem being that he's currently a target for assassination by the CIA because he knows (very little) about The Machine, this detail is brought up by Finch as proof that the man is a Determinator).
    • In another episode, Reese gets ticketed for illegal parking. He makes a token effort to try to get the officer to let him off with a warning, and when it fails, he pays it out of Harold's petty cash. The bigger problem was that as the man in a suit, he stuck out quite significantly in the suburbs.
  • An episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has the entire gang show up to contest some parking tickets by telling an episode-long explanation for why they got the tickets. During the proceedings, Charlie makes another stab at acting like a lawyer and treats it like an important trial. In the end, their supposed defense has them admitting to a number of much worse crimes than the ticket they're fighting, so they simply pay the fine.
  • In the opening of "Red Alert" from The Mentalist, Patrick Jane is pulled over speeding and ends up sending the cop on a chase to the crime scene. Later, he is ticketed and refuses to pay it. He spends most of the episode insisting to Teresa Lisbon that he won't pay the ticket and at the end of the episode she tells him that she'll get the CBI director Gail Bertram to pay it, that she has her ways.
  • In an episode of Mayberry R.F.D., Sam receives a ticket for failure to use his turn signal. Since the fine is only $5, he is resigned to pay the ticket, even though he was sure that he used the signal. His son, Mike, convinces him to fight the ticket in court. Eventually, he brings the judge and the ticketing officer back to the intersection and confirms with the officer that the conditions are the same as on that day. When he turns on the signal, the judge and the officer can't see anything, until he blocks the glare from the sun, clearly showing the blinker working. The judge is convinced and finds him "not guilty".
  • The West Wing Inverts this trope (unpaid tickets causing problems for the ticket-issuer) and mixes in some Diplomatic Impunity in one episode where the UN Secretary-General tries to call President Bartlet because UN diplomats are complaining about their cars being ticketed and towed for illegal parking across New York, which they argue is a violation of their diplomatic immunity. When Bartlet finally learns of it after Charlie and Leo tried to run interference, he flips out.
    Bartlet: [stabs button on phone] THERE ARE BIG SIGNS, YOU CAN'T PARK THERE! They should get towed! I hope they get towed to Queens, and the Triborough is closed, and there's a big craft show at Shea, a flea market or a tractor show! [hangs up]
    Charlie: Well, that was probably his secretary.
    Bartlet: Damn it!
    Charlie: You can bet she'll be parking it in a garage, though.
  • The Yes, Dear episode "The Ticket" sees Greg getting a red light camera ticket after Jimmy borrowed his car without permission. While paying his fine and going to traffic school, making everyone think he is Greg and cannot reveal his real name because of his numerous traffic violations and having his license suspended, Jimmy commits a hit and run and Greg's license is suspended after a cop pulls over the family.

  • Adventures in Odyssey: Whit is perfectly willing to just pay the ticket, but Connie and Eugene insist on him fighting his speeding ticket and go overboard preparing an overzealous defense for his case, involving numerous forensic and character witnesses.

  • Inverted in the contemporary arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space. Arthur accidentally cuts someone off in traffic and, despite his attempts to apologise, she issues him with a "citizen's traffic ticket". Because Arthur is extremely lawful, the next strip shows him attempting to pay the fine to a very baffled official.

    Western Animation 
  • Spoofed in the Animaniacs episode "La-La-Law": Dr. Scratchansnif gets a parking ticket and tries to simply pay it off, but the Warner siblings insist on barging into traffic court and acting as his lawyers, spoofing as many courtroom drama tropes as they can along the way.
  • Garfield and Friends: One episode had Jon get pulled over for speeding, except that the "sign" displaying the posted speed limit is so tiny that the police officer who pulled Jon over has to use a magnifying glass to read it. Jon insists on fighting the ticket in court only to discover that the police officer is also the judge... and the defense attorney. After getting bored listening to the cop/judge/attorney arguing with himself, Garfield and Odie wander outside and run into a pair of highway patrolmen, whom they show the ticket to. Turns out that the person who wrote it is an infamous criminal who's been writing phony traffic tickets, so they arrest him and Jon ends up not having to pay.
  • In Thumb Fun, an old Looney Tunes short, Porky Pig is charged $2 for a minor traffic offense. He considers it no big deal. An outraged Daffy Duck goes into court to argue against the "injustice", and the judge promptly raises the fine to $50. (Keep in mind, that's 1950s money.)
  • The Simpsons
    • In "One Fish, Two Fish Blowfish Blue Fish", Homer is pulled over as he's speeding to get back home to Marge (after believing he only has a matter of hours to live.) He insists that the cops just give him a ticket so he can get going, but the cops decide that they don't want to give him a ticket and throw him into a jail cell instead.
    • In another episode, Homer responds to Chief Wiggum's sarcastic question, "Where's the fire?" by pointing to a massive conflagration in a nearby police station. In addition to the speeding ticket, Homer also gets a fine for "pointing out police stupidity".
    • In "The City Of New York VS Homer Simpson", Barney is appointed the designated driver, but "forgets" to return Homer's car, which he then drives to Manhattan and abandons at the World Trade Center. Homer has to travel to New York to retrieve his car, which is covered in tickets and booted.
  • TaleSpin: In "Bringing Down Babyface", Baloo is revealed to have up racked up a large quantity of unpaid tickets for parking violations, which he sees as small crimes not worth being arrested for. When Baloo is tasked with escorting Babyface Half-Nelson to a high-security prison, he tries to keep Officer Malarkey from finding out, unaware that Malarkey has been knocked out by Babyface and the two have switched uniforms. At the end of the episode, Baloo is given a huge cash reward for re-capturing Babyface after he escapes, but then Malarkey takes the money back to pay the fines for the parking tickets. It is at this point that Baloo vows never to break another law, no matter how small... because it's too expensive.

    Real Life 
  • A woman in Sussex, England, was given a parking ticket and a fine for parking in a disabled bay without a valid disabled badge - but she had used a badge. She challenged it. They rejected her challenge - but this time giving a different reason for why she received the ticket. After asking around, she worked out that her badge had been judged as invalid because the council stamp was faded - despite the fact that A) it had been faded when she got it and B) she had parked over a thousand times and never received a parking ticket for that reason. However, this trope was averted when the ticket was cancelled. She hadn't had to pay a penny, because she hadn't actually gone to court or paid the fine.
  • Diplomats are infamous for exploiting their diplomatic immunity to park wherever the hell they want. United Nations diplomats in NYC have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid parking violations. For whatever reason, Egyptian and Libyan diplomats tend to have the highest violations.
  • Sadly the Played for Laughs angle this usually has in fiction is not always the case in real life. In most Western Democracies municipal government is constantly strapped for cash and either legally unable to raise taxes or raising taxes would be political suicide. What they can do is raise municipal fees and penalties for their violation. And most fines that don't exceed the "parking ticket" level are not set in relation to the income or net worth of the offender even in countries where criminal sentences usually are. Thus there are people who just shrug off the 300€ fine for going 20 km/h over the speed limit and there are people to whom a parking ticket can literally mean bankruptcy. While most of those people would really just want to pay the fine and get it over with, they just can't. It's not always possible to pay it back in multiple installments and failure to pay often incurs more fines, creating a vicious cycle that might end people up in prison. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did a video on this as it applies in the US (plus the private probation companies they use), but the US is far from the only country where things like that happen.


Video Example(s):


Bill's Parking Violation

Bill gets in trouble with a cop for parking near a fire hydrant. Things quickly escalate.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheTroubleWithTickets

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