There are certain criminal offenses that many people think of as essentially harmless. One of those is using a disability placard to which you're not entitled. Another is buying a vest online for your pooch that's emblazoned with the words "Service Dog," so that you can take your best furry friend with you when you go out to the movies. However, these crimes are actually far from victimless and authorities are starting to pay more attention to them. Before you run into a problem, this is what you should know.
You probably don't realize the damage that you're doing.
Nobody wants to be disabled and have to suffer from a debilitating condition that threatens their well-being all the time. However, when you co-opt the rights of the disabled by using a fake handicapped placard to park in that oh-so-convenient disability parking zone or you put a fake service dog vest on your dog, you're essentially making light of the very real problems of the disabled.
In addition, you're risking the safety of others. When you take up a disability parking spot, you may be forcing someone with a bad heart condition to trudge through a crowded parking lot, risking a stroke. If your pet is ill-behaved when you take it out in public, it could end up distracting a real service animal, putting the disabled person who relies on the animal in jeopardy.
You probably also don't realize that you could be risking a felony.
Parking in a handicapped spot without a disability placard can get you a hefty fine, but parking in a spot with a placard that isn't yours, or one to which you aren't really entitled, is a serious crime. In California, for example, forging a doctor's signature on the application to get a disability placard is a felony. In New Jersey, you can get a $10,000 fine and an 18-month prison sentence.
The government is also cracking down on people who falsely claim that their pets are guide dogs in order to get them into restaurants, hotels, and other public places. In Florida, for example, someone who does that could face a 60-day jail term and a month working with people who have real disabilities.
You might also end up committing another crime.
This is also a situation in which one crime can easily lead to another. For example, it is possible that if you appear to be healthy and not obviously disabled that a police officer may get curious and decide to ask questions. While you have the right to remain silent, you don't have the right to lie to a police officer during even what seems like a relatively minor investigation. If you do, it's an additional crime.
If you use the disability placard to get out of paying a parking tab, that's fraud. So is taking a fake service animal onto an airplane–which has to reserve a seat for the animal for free in order to accommodate those with actual disabilities.
It's far better to avoid being charged for any of these crimes in the first place. However, if you make a mistake, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A defense attorney may be able to help you negotiate a plea for these very serious charges.
To speak with a criminal defense attorney, contact a law firm such as Walsh Fewkes Sterba.