I have a grievance against the City of Alexandria, VA, for misapplication of § 46.2-716 of the Virginia Code that I have been trying to get resolved since February of this year. The issue arises from a citation I was issued by Capt. Ray of the Alexandria PD for driving with an "obscured" license plate. He claimed that "all" license plate covers are "illegal" in Alexandria. A close reading of the pertinent paragraph of the code indicates that only "colored" plastic and glass license plate covers and those that obstruct the alphanumeric information on the plates are prohibited. My covers were of clear plastic, all of the information on my plates was clearly legible, and I have photos to prove it. I paid the citation only to avoid having to appear in court. I have since sought, unsuccessfully, to obtain an authoritative legal interpretation of the applicable section of the VA code, first from the City and subsequently from the VA General Assembly, based on the legislative record, all to no avail. The chief of staff of my VA senator conceded that the statute was "unclear", but refused to commit to the authoritative interpretation I had requested. I feel I have been given the proverbial bureaucratic run-around in an effort, by City and State staff, to avoid embarrassing the Alexandria police department and possible legal action. I am thinking about trying to launch a class-action law suit if sufficient support can be found.
Country relating to Question: United States
State (if USA): Virginia
I have tried to get an authoritative interpretation of § 46.2-716 of the Virginia Code, first from the City of Alexandria City Council and subsequently from the Virginia General Assembly, based on the legislative record of the pertinent section. While the chief of staff of my VA senator conceded that the statute was "unclear," he, nor anyone else, would not provide the authoritative interpretation I requested.
I am afraid that you may have been looking to the wrong places for an "authoritative interpretation," as the city attorney and the legislature will not give such a thing. The VA Attorney General's Office WILL provide an "advisory opinion" which is the most you can get without having a "case or controversy" to file suit in court to get an actual court ruling. The courts cannot offer "advisory opinions" so you would have to have a case to bring before them and before you can do so, you have to have a person who has been convicted of this statute under the same circumstances with a clear glass and then they have to file an appeal to the court of appeals and VA Supreme Court and get a ruling from them on the meaning of the wording and statute based on the actual controversy in the case. Once you pled guilty, you lost your right to appeal this further.Under the Constitution, Marbury v. Madison, it is the COURT that interprets the laws and says what they mean. Thus, you must bring a "case or controversy" to the court as I said above. In VA, issues of "pure statutory interpretation [are] the prerogative of the judiciary." Sims Wholesale Co. v. Brown-Forman Corp., 251 Va. 398, 404, 468 S.E.2d 905, 908 (1996). This is why nobody you have contacted will give you an authoritative interpretation of the statute. Furthermore, I would argue here that Code of VA 46.2-716 is very unambiguous, and the VA courts hold "Where a statute is unambiguous, the plain meaning is to be accepted without resort to the rules of statutory interpretation." Last v. Virginia State Bd. of Med., 14 Va.App. 906, 910, 421 S.E.2d 201, 205 (1992).Thus, you should not have pled guilty and paid the fine if you had a clear plastic cover that did not obscure the plate, since the statute is unambiguous and says, "No colored glass, colored plastic, bracket, holder, mounting, frame, or any other type of covering shall be placed, mounted, or installed on, around, or over any license plate if such glass, plastic, bracket, holder, mounting, frame, or other type of covering in any way alters or obscure..." If you note, and the court uses this as statutory construction rules, colored glass is not the only thing prohibited, it also says (separated by comma) "any other type of covering..." which means a clear glass or plastic could be a violation IF it in any way alters or obscures, " (i) the alpha-numeric information, (ii) the color of the license plate, (iii) the name or abbreviated name of the state wherein the vehicle is registered, or (iv) any character or characters, decal, stamp, or other device indicating the month or year in which the vehicle's registration expires..."Thus, merely arguing you had a clear plastic cover is not sufficient to defeat the statute, you have to show it did not do one of the 4 prohibited things in the statute as well. However, to get the "authoritative" interpretation you seek, this can ONLY be given by a court in VA and as such if you are cited for this again, you have to go to trial and if found guilty you can proceed to the appeals process to get such an interpretation.
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