July 16, 2015
In a case that has received some Internet attention, the Village of West Jefferson, Ohio, learned that commas still matter. You can read the Court of Appeals decision here.
Andrea Cammelleri woke up on Thursday evening, February 13, 2014 (she worked third shift) to find that her pickup truck – that had been parked in front of her home – was missing. She called 911 to report the vehicle stolen, only to be informed that the car wasn’t stolen, it was impounded. It seems that the Ms. Cammelleri had parked her truck in the same spot for more than 24 hours, in violation of a Village Ordinance:
It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to park or leave standing upon any street, road, thoroughfare or highway in the Village, any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours except on weekends and holidays, at which the time shall be seventy-two hours.
Ms. Cammelleri and her attorney argued that the ordinance is ambiguous, she parked a pickup truck and the ordinance refers only to “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” The trial court, in convicting Ms. Cammelleri, found that it is obvious that a comma is missing between “motor vehicle” and “camper” and everyone understands that the ordinance is intended to apply to “motor vehicles” or “campers,” and that therefore, it is illegal in the Village of West Jefferson to park a pickup truck in the same spot for more than 24 hours.
Ms. Cammelleri, however, refused to accept that the grammar lessons we had all been taught as children no longer mattered. She took her case to the Court of Appeals.
The Twelfth District Court of Appeals determined that (a) because of the missing comma, the statute is ambiguous; and (b) applying the normal rules of statutory interpretation, the statute, as written, does not apply to Ms. Cammelleri’s pickup truck. Her conviction was thus overturned.
While not directly on point, we are hopeful that this case will lead to a resurgence of the Oxford Comma.