Chalking tires and parking tickets: What is legal?

Is it legal for police to mark your tires with chalk to track how long you’ve been parked somewhere?

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the fairly common practice is actually a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision applies to us here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.


The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment states “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.”

Designed to protect people’s privacy, the Fourth Amendment prohibits most warrantless searches of private premises. But there are several exceptions to the law. It is not illegal if the objects are in plain view (though some states have granted protection to open fields), if people are in imminent danger, if evidence could be destroyed or if a suspect if about to escape. Laws vary from state to state, but states cannot allow anything that would violate the Fourth Amendment.

They can, however, establish higher protection from search and seizures.


15 Parking tickets

As with many of the amendments, there are nuances that can shape how the law is interpreted. And that’s why we’re so fascinated by the case of Alison Taylor, a Michigan woman who’d received 15 parking tickets in just a few years – all from the same parking enforcement officer, Tabitha Hoskins. Each time, Hoskins would mark one of Taylor’s tires with chalk and then come back later to see if her car had moved. Finally fed up after 15 tickets, Taylor argued that this process was a violation of her Constitutional rights.

Philip Easton, Taylor’s attorney, wrote in a court filing, “Trespassing upon a privately-owned vehicle parked on a public street to place a chalk mark to begin gathering information to ultimately impose a government sanction is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit (which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) ruled unanimously in Taylor’s favor. Judge Bernice Donald wrote that chalking tires are a form of trespass if there isn’t a warrant.

Donald concluded that “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.”

And just like that, another layer of interpretation was added to the Fourth Amendment.

If you would like to learn more about the Fourth Amendment or just chat about how this law affects you, please contact the Law Offices of Joshua Crain.