20-Year-Old Parking Tickets: Who Has Burden of Proof?

Suburban Chicago couple receives "vehicle seizure notice" for unpaid tickets dating back to 1991

When it comes to parking tickets and the City of Chicago: how old is too old?

In Illinois, there are three crimes with no statute of limitations: murder, rape and arson.  In the city of Chicago, one could add a fourth: parking tickets.

The City has unlimited time to dig back into archives and chase down a driver for a parking fine, a fact that reached out and recently shocked Dwayne and Cheryl Jackson of far south suburban Beecher.

"I looked at it, and it first, I had to pause. I said that's got to be a mistake!" Cheryl Jackson told NBC 5 Investigates.

Two alleged parking tickets from 1991 and 1993 were listed on a menacing "vehicle seizure notice" sent to the Jacksons late last year. The citations were more than 20 years old, and the Jacksons said they hadn't heard a peep about them for more than two decades.

"So it wasn't a problem of us hiding. It was just a problem of them looking. They could have easily contacted us then," Dwayne Jackson said.

A third ticket listed on the notice was for a 2014 violation that Dwayne Jackson said he'd already paid. He showed NBC 5 Investigates the canceled check stamped "deposited" by the city. But he said that wasn't enough to get the city to lift the threat of seizure.

"So there was no ability to appeal, no recourse other than pay the ticket we're going to take your car and you're going to be using your horse to get around," he said.

Dwayne said the Department of Finance told him the city couldn't offer proof of the tickets alleged against him but that he could go to his bank to get proof he had paid. Those canceled checks would have been from 20-some years ago. The problem: banks don't keep them that long.

"They had no way of going back that far. They only go back, I think it was – seven years," Dwayne Jackson said.

In fact, most banks don't keep canceled checks for 20 years and don't have to. Federal regulations require banks hold on to canceled checks for only seven years.

"If they can't prove it from that far back, they should drop it," ticket watchdog Mike Brockway said. Chicagoans are often shocked to learn there is no statute of limitations attached to parking tickets and Brockway called on City Council to change that.

"Rape, murder, arson or parking tickets!" Brockway said. "I think it's outrageous that the city puts a parking tickets on the same level of scrutiny as those capital crimes."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance told NBC 5 Investigates that contrary to what the Jackson's say they were told, the burden is on the city to provide copies of tickets to drivers facing fines. In the Jacksons' case, we asked for that proof. The city couldn't find the 1991 ticket, so it was dismissed. The spokesperson called the re-billing of the 2014 ticket "human error" and agreed it had already been paid. But 1993 still came a calling: the city sent NBC 5 Investigates a copy of it. The Jacksons said that's all they requested all along: proof they actually owed a debt.

"Show me the tickets. Don't send me a letter saying we're going to seize your vehicle and we have no other recourse but to pay," Cheryl Jackson said.

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