No vehicles in the park?

In this post, let’s revisit H.L.A. Hart’s paradigm example of the problem of interpretation in law: a prosaic ordinance prohibiting “vehicles in the park” (a real life example of just such an ordinance is pictured below). Assume the text of this municipal ordinance leaves the term “vehicle” undefined; as a result, whether a miniature scooter is included within the definition of vehicles is an open question, a matter of judicial interpretation. How should a judge decide this delicate question? On the one hand, we have the “plain and ordinary meaning rule.” Courts generally assume that the words of an ordinance or statute are to be read using in their plain and ordinary sense, so if a scooter is a “vehicle” in a literal sense, then it is a vehicle within the plain and ordinary meaning of the ordinance. On the other hand, however, we have the “rule of lenity,” which tells us that ambiguous criminal laws must be read in favor of the defendant and against the government. Or, in the words of William Blackstone, “penal statutes must be construed strictly.” So, which rule of interpretation should apply to this case?

Define vehicle!

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to No vehicles in the park?

  1. CHCollins says:

    A “vehicle” is a more generic term than a “motor vehicle” but, if I were a judge, I would use the commonly-used notion of vehicle, which these days is motor vehicle — not rickshaw, not bicycle, not toy scooter or roller-skates and not horse. If you ask people to name types of vehicles, they would answer cars, trucks, SUVs. They would probably then think of motorcycle, and probably motor scooter… things that propel themselves. Another judge might feel differently about rickshaws, just based on their size and disruption factor. But that logic would apply to horses too, which no one regards as a “vehicle”.

    To see if I was right, I looked up Ord 18A (per the sign) and it forbids one to “Operate any motor vehicle capable of speeds equal to or greater than 4 mph as defined in Chapter 39 of this Code except for the operation of golf carts at Dubsdread Golf Course in compliance with rules and regulations established by that facility.” So, while the sign may be unspecific, the ordinance is clearer. So bring the ordinance along with your rickshaw, to show the policeman.

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