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Pawleys Island: Town raises stakes in jury trials for parking tickets

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Out of 224 parking tickets issued on Pawleys Island from May through September, two led to requests for jury trials. That has led the town to look for a way to raise the stakes for people who want their day in court.

Under a revision to the parking ordinance now under review by the town attorney a conviction in court for a parking violation would carry a penalty of up to $500 or 30 days in jail. The current law sets a penalty of $25 to $100 or 30 days for parking violations.

“A lot of this is consistent with what we do now,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

The proposed ordinance would set a “courtesy payment” of $20 for most parking violations. Parking in front of a fire hydrant would boost the amount to $50 and illegal parking in a handicapped zone would rise to $100. After four days, a $10 late fee would be added.

Those who notify the town in writing that they want to go to court will receive a warrant and the case will go to town court.

“A parking ticket is served on a vehicle, not on a person,” Municipal Court Judge Alan Walters explained.

The requests for jury trails this year were both moved to Georgetown County’s central magistrate’s court, where a jury was already assembled. Walters is also a county magistrate.

Neither case went to trial.

“The prosecutor exercised his discretion not to prosecute,” Walters said. “He had some issues with them.”

One was over how close a vehicle was parked to a fire hydrant. Hydrants seem to make up the bulk of parking tickets, Walters said.

Some people believe that requesting a jury trial is the way to avoid paying a fine, Otis said. “That isn’t the case,” he said. “We will prosecute.”

The town hired James Purvis, a lawyer in the firm with Town Attorney David DuRant, to prosecute cases. The only jury trial heard this year was for car break-ins, and that was remanded from Circuit Court.

Walters said he has only drawn a jury for the town three times in his 10 years as judge. “We still pay the state each year for the town’s jury list,” he said.

None of those juries was drawn from island residents. For the town, it’s a matter of convenience. Defendants seem to think they will have a better chance with a larger jury pool drawn from off the island, Walters said.

He hasn’t seen the proposed parking ordinance, but understands the town’s reasoning. “They don’t want to get the reputation that if you ask for a jury trial it’s an automatic dismissal,” he said.

The revised ordinance is similar to the law in Myrtle Beach, Otis said.

While the maximum fine would be $500, the cost to someone who is found guilty would be higher.

“The $500 means, because of state fees and assessments, $1,092.50,” Walters said.

Of course that’s the maximum. A judge could suspend the fine.

“I can say, with the town, it’s never been about the money,” Walters said. “It’s about keeping the public happy, the property owners.”

With traffic dwindling, there’s no rush to pass the revision.

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