Chalking Tires: An Unconstitutional Practice for Parking Enforcement Officers

Is it possible that parking enforcement officers have violated the constitutional rights of Americans? Yes, according to the judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The three judges on the panel recently agreed unanimously that the method is a form of trespass that violates Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Michigan resident Alison Taylor brought the case due to her frustration about the number of parking tickets written against her. The complainant specifically targeted the city of Saginaw and the officer that had written each of the 15 tickets Taylor received. Taylor’s lawyer, Philip Ellison said that the chalk marks on the tires were a form of trespassing.

Parking enforcement officers chalk tires to determine if the vehicle was moved during their rounds. Taylor and her lawyer believed the marks on vehicles allow the officers to gather information from private property without a warrant. The court said that the chalking does qualify as an unreasonable search because the contact with the vehicle to mark the tire is a form of trespassing without cause.

Alison Taylor was pleased with the result and even happier to think that her actions helped to change a law. The lawyer for the Michigan woman pointed out that free parking is not a constitutional right, but that the Saginaw parking enforcement agency chose a method that violated the rights of citizens. Ellison, however, has filed a class action lawsuit against the city to refund excessive parking fines and fees for the previous three to six years, based on what a judge declares allowable.

Alternatives for how to constitutionally check vehicle parking times have already been thought out by legal experts. Orin Kerr, a law professor, said a straightforward way to avoid any constitutional problems would be with photographs. The method allows offices to mark the exact position of a vehicle without any physical contact. The City of Saginaw already adapted their own process and now mark the pavement beside the tire rather than the tire itself.

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