Federal Appeals Court Holds Chalking of Parked Cars Violates 4th Amendment

Route Fifty article (2019-04-24) reported on the recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which held that the longstanding practice of chalking the tires of parked vehicles in order to determine parking violations violates the unreasonable searches prohibition under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The case holding has caught the attention of many municipalities and counties both inside and outside the of the 6th Circuit’s jurisdiction (Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky).

The case was brought by Alison Taylor after she received 15 parking tickets (which are civil violations) in three years based on chalking done by the Michigan city of Saginaw. Taylor argued that the chalking of her tires amounted to an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment and could only be done if the City first secured a warrant. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case based on a motion by the City. However, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with Taylor and reversed the dismissal and remanded the case back to District Court. From the article:

“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,” wrote Judge Bernice Bouie Donald. …

Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of Southern California, wrote on Reason’s Volokh Conspiracy blog that he wasn’t sure the decision was correctly decided, but advised city officials to take note.

He also raised the question if the possible end of chalk marks wouldn’t be a big deal in the age of the smart phone, when officers can easily take time-stamped photos of a parked car. “It may be more complicated or expensive than chalking, but it avoids the Fourth Amendment concern by just observing what is in public without any physical attachment to property,” Kerr wrote.

The article also noted that while Saginaw officials have not commented on the decision, nearby Bay City is immediately halted its chalking. The City of Tampa, Florida, also halted its chalking, even though Florida is not part of the 6th Circuit. Other cities outside of the Circuit are continuing to chalk.

An appeal of the Court of Appeal’s decision is being considered.

Useful Links

Taylor v. City of Saginaw Case (US Court of Special Appeals, 6th Circuit)

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