Tire-chalking ruled unconstitutional, but Court of Appeals now asked to set aside decision

Police in Saginaw, Michigan, can hang onto their chalk a little longer. According to the Detroit Free Press and other media sources, the City of Saginaw has asked a federal appeals court to set aside a recent ruling and re-open a dispute over whether marking tires to keep track of illegally parked cars violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Cities across the United States have ceased parking enforcement,” Saginaw attorney Gregory Mair wrote in a court filing. “The question as to whether chalking tires constitutes a Fourth Amendment violation has a significant impact on law enforcement and order in municipalities.”

After Saginaw resident Alison Taylor filed suit against the Saginaw Police department, claiming that chalking tires constitutes “unreasonable search and seizure,” a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously ruled in April that chalking tires is a violation of the Fourth Amendment because it is a form of trespass and requires a warrant.

The City of Saginaw now wants the full appeals court to throw out the decision and re-hear the case.

parked on the street
Yannis A / Unsplash

To determine if a violation occurred, the three-judge panel had to first decide if the actions in question counted as a search and, if so, determine if that search was reasonable. The court ruled that chalking is indeed a search because government officials physically trespass upon a constitutionally protected area to obtain information. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a warrant is required before placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle, and the panel determined that covertly chalking a tire in order to monitor a car’s movements is essentially the same thing.

Mair and the City of Saginaw disagree.

“Even assuming chalking a tire was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable,” Mair wrote. “The chalking process is limited in scope, necessary only to enforce (the allowed parking time).”

The 6th Circuit includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

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