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Tire chalking as a form of parking enforcement has been declared unconstitutional in Michigan

officer writing parking ticket
Daniel Hohlfeld
Adobe Stock

Tire chalking by police is now banned in Michigan, a decision the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made Monday. A lawyer, whose client has $180 in separately issued fines, argued that this practice violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

“Tire chalking” is a common practice by officers in order to keep track of cars that stay in parking past their designated hours. Ann Arbor is one of the cities that regularly marks cars on unmetered streets. The fine for an expired meter parking ticket is $15 if paid by the end of the next day. It increases the later the payment is. According to the city’s annual fiscal report, there have been over 102,981 parking violations last year.

Ann Arbor Police Department Sergeant William Clock said the department will stop chalking tires. Going forward, he said, they are investigating ideas on how to amend their procedure but so far have no replacement solution. Clock said that he was not ready to share these ideas with the public just yet.

The case surrounded plaintiff Alicia Taylor and defendant and officer Tabitha Hopkins in Saginaw. Taylor alleged that Hopkins chalked Taylor’s tires 75 separate times for fines.

Taylor lost her case against Hopkins and the city of Saginaw at the district court level. However, the 6th Circuit overruled the earlier decision. In a decision, they wrote that chalking was defined as a type of search because “it is conjoined with...an attempt to find something or to obtain information” and overdue parking is not sufficient enough excuse to be exempt from the warrant requirement.

“To the contrary, at the time of the search, Taylor’s vehicle was lawfully parked in a proper parking location, imposing no safety risk whatsoever,” the document reads. “Because the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not mitigate public hazard, the City was not acting in its ‘role as [a] community caretake[r].'”

The decision also impacts Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The case is heading back to court in Bay City, Michigan. The lawyer, Philip Ellison, hopes to see refunds for people who got tickets. Ellison claims that Saginaw has been collecting up to $200,000 a year with parking tickets.

"We don't think everyone deserves free parking," Ellison said to The Associated Press. "But the process Saginaw selected is unconstitutional. ... I'm very glad the three judges who got this case took it seriously. It affects so many people."

Listen above to hear Stateside's conversation with Philip Ellison. 

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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