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Federal Appeals Court Outlaws Tire Chalking
Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals declares unconstitutional the common practice of marking tires with chalk to issue parking tickets.

Oregon meter maid
Delivering a severe blow to the parking ticket industry, the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals on Monday said meter maids violate the US Constitution when they mark motorist tires with chalk. The three-judge appellate panel sided with a driver who brought suit against the city of Saginaw, Michigan, which sent out a pair of meter maids to mark the tires of cars in parking spaces for the purpose of issuing tickets. Last year, the town of 49,000 raised $222,094 from parking citations that range in cost from $15 to $100 each.

Motorist Alison Patricia Taylor sued the city after receiving fifteen of these tickets, arguing that meter maids had no right to draw on her Toyota 4Runner and Mercury Mountaineer with chalk. The city insisted it did not violate the Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless government intrusion on private property because it was acting as a "caretaker" of the community. The appellate judges did not buy that argument.

"Because the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not to mitigate public hazard, the city was not acting in its role as a community caretaker," Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote for the court.

Taylor's attorneys argued that the city was effectively vandalizing parked cars through a physical trespass that was outlawed by the 2011 US Supreme Court ruling US v. Jones (view case). The chalk mark is made on the car before there is any reason to suspect the car of violating any law or ordinance.

"The hue and cry of 'that's the way we've always done it' does not turn an unconstitutional activity into a constitutional one," attorney Philip L. Ellison explained.

At the trial court level, US District Judge Thomas L. Ludington had ruled that the intrusion of chalking was reasonable, and that the Jones precedent did not apply because "the chalk mark was harmless and temporary." The appellate court reversed Judge Ludington, saying he missed the point.

"The district court found that the city's warrantless search of Taylor's vehicle was reasonable because there is a lesser expectation of privacy with automobiles," Judge Donald wrote. "We disagree... Here, the city commences its search on vehicles that are parked legally, without probable cause or even so much as individualized suspicion of wrongdoing -- the touchstone of the reasonableness standard."

The court found the city's interest in maintaining orderly parking does not allow it to act beyond constitutional restraints.

"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," Judge Donald concluded.

A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Taylor v. Saginaw (US Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 4/22/2019)

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