Tire chalking to enforce parking spot time limits ruled unconstitutional

April 23, 2019

Tire chalking, the practice many cities and police departments use to measure the amount of time a car has been in a parking spot, was ruled unconstitutional on Monday.

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, where Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote the unanimous verdict for the three-judge panel, tire chalking is a form of trespassing and an attempt to gather information without a search warrant. In the most basic sense, it violates the Fourth Amendment, which forbids "unreasonable searches."

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The Washington Post reported on the decision, which came as a reversal from a previous ruling in a 2012 Supreme Court case. That case limited the power of police departments to use GPS trackers to keep an eye on criminals and suspects. In the case, the Supreme Court made a "community caretaker" exception for parking and traffic enforcement. However, Judge Donald dismissed the exception in this case and said a car parked too long, where an officer would mark the tire with chalk, does not pose a safety risk. Instead, the city is merely trying to collect revenue.

The case went to court after a lawyer in Saginaw, Michigan, was chalked while sitting in a car speaking to his law partner. A police officer ticketed the car. He posted his experience to Facebook where a woman contacted him about receiving 15 tire chalking parking tickets in two years. The two put together a civil rights lawsuit—and won. The 6th Circuit covers Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan.

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Police departments may adapt to the ruling. Per the report, there is nothing to stop officers from snapping a photo of a car to gather the same amount of information on a parked car. A photo would not infringe on any Fourth Amendment rights.

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