Court Says Using Chalk on Tires for Parking Enforcement Is an Unlawful Search

Matthew Schwartz, NPR:

The case was brought by Alison Taylor, a Michigan woman whom the court describes as a “frequent recipient of parking tickets.” The city of Saginaw, Mich., like countless other cities around the country, uses chalk to mark the tires of cars to enforce time limits on parking.

By the time Taylor received her 15th citation in just a few years, she decided to go after the city — and specifically after parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins.

Hoskins, Taylor alleged in her lawsuit, was a “prolific” chalker. Every single one of Taylor’s 15 tickets was issued by Hoskins after she marked a tire with chalk, and then circled back to see if Taylor’s car had moved. That chalking, Taylor argued, was unconstitutional.

“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,” Taylor’s lawyer, Philip Ellison, wrote in a court filing.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously agreed. Chalking tires is a kind of trespass, Judge Bernice Donald wrote for the panel, and it requires a warrant. The decision affects the 6th Circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Via Maciej Cegłowski:

It’s interesting to watch the surveillance ratchet in action. This court decision means that a simple, privacy-preserving method of parking enforcement will be replaced nationwide with photographic databases of parked cars.

This is one of those cases where the legal interpretation baffles the common sense understanding — in this case, of what constitutes a “search” or, indeed, “trespassing”. With enough time, Cegłowski’s imagined outcome seems entirely likely.