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Marking Tires for Parking Enforcement Ruled Unconstitutional

Man hand press the remote control car alarm systems
By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 24, 2019

A federal appeals court said parking enforcement officers cannot chalk tires to track how long cars have been parked.

In Taylor v. City of Saginaw, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said the chalking/tracking violates the Constitution. The unanimous court said the practice violates the right to be free from unreasonable searches. It's like entering property without a search warrant, the appeals panel said.

Meanwhile, parking police scratched their heads and car alarms went off everywhere.

Four-State Rule

Actually, the Sixth Circuit ruling directly affects only the four states in its jurisdiction -- Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan. The case came from Michigan.

Alison Taylor, the plaintiff, had more than a dozen parking tickets for breaking the two-hour limit in Saginaw. Her lawyer argued to a trial judge that marking the plaintiff's tires violated the Fourth Amendment. Judge Thomas Ludington said the legal theory was "unorthodox," and dismissed the case. But the Sixth Circuit saw it differently. The purpose of marking tires was to raise revenue, the appeals court said, not to protect the public against a safety risk.

"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," the court said.

$15 Tickets

The holding was a significant victory in a case over $15 tickets. Attorney Philip Ellison, representing the plaintiff, said he fights for the "everyday person." "We don't think everyone deserves free parking," he told The Associated Press. "But the process Saginaw selected is unconstitutional."

It's a common practice, especially where municipalities don't have parking meters to enforce time limits. Parking police mark tires and check back later to see whether they rotated over a period of time. Ellison wants to certify the case as a class-action. He said the city has been collecting $200,000 a year by marking tires and fining people.

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