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Chalking and Entering: Circuit Court Decides that Marking Car Tires is Unconstitutional

Chalking and Entering: Circuit Court Decides that Marking Car Tires is Unconstitutional

For decades, city officials have used chalk to track how long cars have been parked in areas without meters.

On Monday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, OH decided that “chalking” is a violation of the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches (along the same lines as breaking and entering).

To validate the unprecedented ruling, the judges cited a 2012 Supreme Court decision which deemed it unconstitutional for police to attach GPS devices to vehicles without a warrant to track criminals. Monday’s ruling considers “chalking” similarly inappropriate.

The Cincinnati court’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Philip Ellison, a lawyer from Saginaw, MI whose friend Alison Taylor claims to have received 15 parking tickets in 2 years from the same parking enforcement officer 

The strange case was dismissed by a US District Court in Michigan, which argued that chalking was not unreasonable.

“Chalking tires has been used for over 60 years…and is widely-used across the country as a non-invasive way to keep track of overtime parking,” said Ben Kirby, a city official in St. Petersburg, FL.

But the appellate judges in Cincinnati agreed with Taylor in her argument that chalking was – in effect – a search made without probable cause. 

The purpose of marking tires is to “raise revenue,” not to protect the public, said the court. “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.”

Monday’s decision, which applies only to Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee, sends the case back to the court in Michigan. 

Editor’s note:  This may seem like the smallest, most insignificant breach of the 4th amendment, but to us at PBP, any breach is too much.  I’ve been the victim of this, and while the punishment is certainly not unbearable, the fact that my property was marked by the government without my permission made me very angry (I get that way sometimes…).

We all know that this has nothing to do with public safety. It has everything to do with raising money for local municipalities. In my opinion, this is in the same category as automatic traffic cameras. We are actually perverting our public justice system to generate revenue.  Are we that petty? Do we really want America to go that way?

In my opinion, this was the right call, and I am glad that someone had the guts to take it that far.

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  1. Fire21

    If people are breaking the law and get caught by a camera or a chalk mark or a police officer, who’s in the wrong? Is there a difference in getting caught “red handed” or on video tape? Cities may be making money from these marks and videos, but in reality there are too many lawbreakers for the enforcement officers to catch everyone. I see nothing wrong, and a lot of good from using technology–old or new–to help keep lawbreakers in line. And BTW, if video is legally usable to view such crimes as Jussie Smollet’s, what could possibly be wrong with using them to catch other criminals?

  2. Lowell

    How can the ruling only apply to the four named states? If it is a violation of the 4th Amendment then it is a violation in all fifty states.

  3. Kenneth Bakke

    I’ve lived with traffic cameras half my driving life, was glad to see my tax dollar$ being spent more wisely then paying a donut eatin’ , Barney Fife to drive ’round just hoping to catch someone!

    • Joe Gilbertson

      You can wish for a ‘1984’ society if you like, but I’m going to fight against it (I went to court to fight a traffic cam ticket, and won). Again this is not a public safety issue, this is a money making effort by the cities, and that is the primary selling point by the companies who produce them. Give me good ole Barney any day.

  4. Alfred Graveline

    Did it occur to anyone that parking signs notify you of the amount of time you can legally park in a space as well as able to park there as well. You are not only breaking a law, but are depriving another person to park there if you are over the time limit. I say mark them up.

    • Joe Gilbertson

      Legally? This is not a public safety issue, it is not an attempt to provide services to the public. This is a moneymaking proposition by the city, designed to catch visitors to the city. And what right does ANYONE have to make marks on my vehicle? Let alone mark my vehicle for tracking purposes.

  5. Renegade

    I am sorry if a simple act of common sense has so many people In an uproar. In an area of limited parking space, what the hell does anyone have a problem with limited parking space for customers or short term pick-up? Way too many people take advantage of a catbird parking spot for much longer than posted time limits because they are too lazy to walk a few extra feet while people that could use or need that spot for a quick pickup of important goods have to suffer . If the city makes a few extra bucks out of it , who the hell cares? This may not sound right from a conservative, but that is how it should be considered.