Constitutional Law

Chalking tires constitutes unreasonable search, 6th Circuit rules

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Parking enforcement officers in Saginaw, Michigan, who use chalk to mark the tires of cars to track how long they have been parked are violating the constitution, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati held that the practice of chalking violated plaintiff Alison Taylor’s right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches. The Washington Post, the Associated Press and NBC News have coverage.

Taylor sued the city of Saginaw and its parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins in 2017 after receiving 15 parking tickets in three years. She claimed that the city put chalk on her tires without her consent or a valid search warrant.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted the city of Saginaw’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that even though chalking might have constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, that search was reasonable under the community caretaker exception.

“Because we chalk this practice up to a regulatory exercise, rather than a community-caretaking function, we reverse,” Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote in the panel’s decision.

The city of Saginaw was not acting in its role as a community caretaker, as the purpose of chalking was to raise revenue, not protect the public against a safety risk, Donald 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,” she said.

The decision sets a new standard for Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, which are covered by the 6th Circuit, the Associated Press says.

The ruling on Monday remanded the case back to the district court.

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