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The Federal Appeals Court Says Cops Can’t Chalk Your Tires!

For decades parking enforcement cops have used “chalking tires” as a way of keeping tabs on how long a car is parked in a particular spot – but not anymore!

In the Michigan city of Saginaw, parking enforcement officers use a technique used all over the country for keeping track of how long a vehicle has been parked in one parking place – chalking the tires. If a parking spot doesn’t have a parking meter, parking officials will mark the tires of a car with chalk, which helps them determine exactly how long that vehicle has been sitting in that spot. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit recently ruled, in a first of it’s kind decision, that this practice is unconstitutional.

How did this issue come to light in Saginaw, Michigan?

It all started when a lawyer was sitting in his car, chatting to his law partner, and a parking enforcement officer issued him a ticket. He took to Facebook to rant about how unfair and unethical it was to chalk his tires, and a friend named Alison Taylor reached out to him about the 15 parking tickets she’d accrued in under 2 years – all the result of chalked tires, she said. Together they filed a lawsuit against the city of Saginaw, and one specific officer whom she claims issues more than 95% of the parking tickets.

Why would chalking tires be a violation of your constitutional rights?

The lawsuit claimed that chalking a person’s tires is a violation of one’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment bars “unreasonable searches“, but there is no other case like this in U.S. history, and so there’s no precedent for the opinion that chalking is an unreasonable form of search. According to Taylor, the city of Saginaw conducted an unreasonable search of her vehicle when they put chalk marks on her vehicle without her permission, and without a warrant.

The lawsuit was initially dismissed by the District Court

The attorney who filed the case says he’s surprised they won in the end, especially given the fact that a U.S. District Court in Bay City, Michigan, dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that chalking, which certainly a type of “search” wasn’t unreasonable. The District Court is the lowest court in the federal court system. According to that District Court, people have a lesser expectation of privacy in their cars than in their homes, for example. In addition, the Supreme Court has put a “community caretaker” exception in place to warrant requirements for routine parking and traffic enforcement, allowing cops to control the hazards of clogged streets.

So what happens now? Can cops chalk your tires?

The three Judges who sit on the panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Cincinnati, have held that chalking is a violation of Constitutional rights. Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, writing on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel, explained that “The city (Saginaw) 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.” In other words, stop chalking people’s cars, officers!

This looks like we put a W in the column for the good guys! If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having the government violate your constitutional rights, our criminal defense team can help. Call The Kronzek Firm at 800-576-6035.  

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