SALT LAKE CITY — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that parking enforcement officers who mark car tires with chalk to track how long the driver has been parked are acting unconstitutionally.
A panel of three judges for the 6th Circuit (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) unanimously ruled that chalking car tires is a violation of the Fourth Amendment because government officials physically trespass on a constitutionally protected area (private vehicles) to collect information, according to NPR.
Alison Taylor, a resident of Saginaw, Michigan, sued Saginaw City and its parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins after Taylor’s car tires were chalked on 15 separate occasions between 2014 and 2017 and she was issued citations in kind, according to court documents.
Taylor alleged her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches had been violated because Hoskins and the city had put chalk marks on her car’s tires without a search warrant or her consent.
Taylor’s attorney, Philip Ellison, wrote in a court filing, "Trespassing upon a privately owned vehicle parked on a public street to place a chalk mark to begin gathering information to ultimately impose a government sanction is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.”
According to Judge Bernice Donald, who wrote the court opinion on the case, chalking does in fact classify as a search under the Fourth Amendment.
Donald cited United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012) as a precedent. In Jones, it was ruled that “when governmental invasions are accompanied by physical intrusions, a search occurs when the government: (1) trespasses upon a constitutionally protected area, (2) to obtain information.”
That case involved the government attaching a GPS device to a vehicle to track its movements.
Donald wrote of Taylor v. Saginaw, “As the district court aptly noted, ‘(d)espite the low-tech nature of the investigative technique ... the chalk marks clearly provided information to Hoskins.’
“This practice amounts to an attempt to obtain information under Jones,” Donald wrote.
Donald said that though the city argued that there is a “reduced expectation of privacy in an automobile,” there was no probable cause to search Taylor’s vehicle, rendering any automobile exception inapplicable.
According to Donald, though cities are entitled to maintain orderly parking, the manner in which they do so is not without constitutional limitations.
Without “individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” the city cannot argue that chalking a tire to track how long a car is parked is a reasonable search, according to the court, which is one reason why they ultimately ruled in Taylor’s favor.
"We don't think everyone deserves free parking," Elison said, according to NPR. "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."