Military and Police

Court Rules Chalking Car Tires Violates 4th Amendment

The New York Post is reporting an unusual decision out of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sets the legal standards for Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. They’ve broadened constitutional protections with a ruling by a three-judge panel that officers enforcing parking rules by marking tires with chalk constitutes a Fourth Amendment violation against unreasonable searches. By chalking the car’s tire, the court found that the officer is “trespassing” on the vehicle to get information. The information: the car has not moved after the time limit, so an officer may issue a citation.

The 6th Circuit held that officers marked the tires not to protect public safety but to “raise revenue.” The court also 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.”

Officers in Saginaw, Michigan had issued the plaintiff, Alison Taylor, over two dozen tickets each with fines of $15. In each case, Taylor had allegedly parked her car over the two-hour parking limit. In these cases, officers use wands with chalk attached to mark the tires of cars parked in restricted-time parking zones. They record the time, then return after the time limit has expired. If the car remains parked in the same location, as indicated by the chalk mark, the officer may issue a citation.

Taylor’s attorney, Phillip Ellison, argued “marking tires was similar to police secretly putting a GPS device on a vehicle without a proper warrant.” Especially since the drivers have committed no offense, and there is no legal reason to believe they will, at the time the officers mark the tires. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police could not place a GPS on a car without a warrant.

Not a huge fan of law enforcement for revenue raising and having been a victim of what I consider unfair parking enforcement, though I’m not convinced this decision is correct, I’m sympathetic to Ellison’s argument.

Now, I don’t believe chalking tires rises to the level of affixing a warrantless GPS device. However, couldn’t an urban hall monitor chalking your car to catch you breaking a rule, smack of self-incrimination—a 5th Amendment violation? Maybe, maybe not. Hey, if drawing a line on a tire with chalk is trespassing, then… Nevertheless, the financial consequences for the city could be significant.

Taylor intends to return to the lower court, from which he’d appealed the case. He wants the original U.S. District Court judge, Thomas Ludington, to “certify the lawsuit as a class-action, with refunds for people who got tickets.” Ellison says fines collected from violations stemming from marking tires brings in an annual revenue of about $200,000.

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Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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