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Chalking Tires For Parking Enforcement Is Unconstitutional, Federal Court Rules

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit Photo Credit: File

Parking enforcement officers using chalk to mark tires may be acting unconstitutionally, a federal court ruled.

Chalking tires to enforce time limits on parking has been a tried and true practice for scofflaws around the country for decades.

This week, a federal appeals court ruled that “chalking” is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The case was introduced by Michigan resident Alison Taylor, who was described by the court as a “frequent recipient of parking tickets.” She reportedly received 15 tickets before taking action, alleging that parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins was a “prolific chalker.”

Hoskins would mark Taylor’s tires with chalk, and later circle back to see if the car had been moved before the meter expired. Taylor argued that was unconstitutional and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously agreed.

Lawyers for Taylor argued that marking tires was similar to police secretly putting a GPS device on a vehicle without a proper warrant, citing a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling.

"We don't think everyone deserves free parking," Philip Ellison, the attorney who brought the case, told The Associated Press. "But the process Saginaw selected is unconstitutional. ... I'm very glad the three judges who got this case took it seriously. It affects so many people."

The decision will immediately impact Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, but could have farther reaching impacts down the road. The purpose of marking tires was to "raise revenue," not to protect the public against a safety risk, the judges said.

"The city does not demonstrate, in law or logic, that the need to deter drivers from exceeding the time permitted for parking — before they have even done so — is sufficient to justify a warrantless search under the community caretaker rationale.”

On her Facebook page, Taylor — the recipient of frequent parking tickets — delighted in the fact that future law students would get to read about her case while studying the Fourth Amendment. "That's definitely the most exciting part!" she wrote. "I've helped change the law."

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