Federal Court Rules Chalking Parked Cars’ Tires Is Unconstitutional

Illustration for article titled Federal Court Rules Chalking Parked Cars' Tires Is Unconstitutional

Even if you don’t hang out at your local parking enforcement officer bars (my local one is called Mead or Mates) you’re likely aware that it’s a common practice for parking enforcers to make chalk marks on your tires to determine if your car has moved or not. Now, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has decided that tire-chalking is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. God Bless America!

In case you don’t feel like unfolding your pocket Constitution, here’s the text of the Fourth Amendment:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The court said Monday that when a tire is marked with chalk, that constitutes a “search,” at least in the context of the Fourth Amendment. This is because there is direct physical contact (a trespass) with a privately owned object or area (the car) in an effort to obtain information (has the car moved?).

Because at the time of the “search” the car is legally parked, the court decided that, according to their statement,

“…[cars] that are parked legally, without probable cause, or even so much as ‘individualized suspicion of wrongdoing’ — the touchstone of the reasonableness standard…”


That means chalking constitutes an illegal search without probable cause, and as such is unconstitutional. There’s a lot of good discussion of the case in this Twitter thread:

The case ended up at federal court after it was brought by Alison Taylor of Michigan, who the court described as someone who was a “frequent recipient of parking tickets.” Taylor got 15 parking tickets over the course of three years, all from the same officer in Saginaw, Michigan. She sued in 2017, with her lawyer, Philip Ellison, arguing that chalk used was unconstitutional.


For now, the case will be sent back for a lower court in Michigan to consider further; Monday’s ruling by the appeals court was to reinstate it, according to NBC News.

I’m absolutely fine with this decision. Tire chalking always felt like cheating, for some reason. Sure, parking enforcement can take cell phone pictures of your car and accomplish the same thing, but think of the time you’ll save washing chalk off your tires.

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