The difference between 'letter' and 'spirit' of law

Published 9:34 am Monday, July 28, 2003

By Staff
There is often a fuzzy, but important, line that can be drawn between the spirit of a law and the letter of the law. Such a case appears to have occured in a Brewton city ordinance related to truck parking.
Several months ago, the council voted to make three additions to an existing ordinance that addresses the operation of vehicles within the city limits. In short, the ordinance was designed to keep large commercial vehicles from parking overnight in residential areas, to prohibit any vehicles from parking in rights-of-way and to prevent unattached trailers from being left in the Downtown Commercial District.
That was the spirit of the law.
At Tuesday's meeting, the ordinance related to overnight parking in a residential area came into question when a local resident told the council he was being discrimated against and that he had not been informed of the ordinance and did not have the opportunity to comment before its passage.
The portion of the ordinance he called into question related to a sentence that states, "Trucks shall not park in any residential zoning district over-night." However the ordinance defines trucks as "trailers and truck tractors with trailer attached."
In this case, the trailer is not attached to the tractor when Charles Hapholdt parks his truck at his residence, on his property. Since there is no trailer, it does not technically fit the city's definition of a truck.
By the letter of the law, Hapholdt seemingly has grounds to challenge efforts to move the parked truck off his property, and out of the neighborhood he lives in.
In our view, the city council would be well advised to re-examine the wording of its ordinance. Although legal counsel might offer better insight into how a court might interpret the ordinance, it appears that in this case, the letter of the law does not achieve its intended spirit.

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