Can Police Give Parking Tickets Via Chalking Your Tire?

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CASE ANALYSIS - TAYLOR V. CITY OF SAGINAW

Facts of the case

      • The core issue of the case revolves around the Respondent/city’s usage of a common parking enforcement practice called chalking.
      • City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked.
      • Parking enforcement officers generally return to the car after the posted time for parking has passed, and if the chalk marks are still there, a citation is issued.
      • Appellant was a frequent recipient of parking tickets. She sued the City and its parking enforcement officer, alleging that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search.
      • The Respondent/City filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), asserting that chalking was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, or alternatively, if it was a search, it was reasonable under the community caretaker exception
      • The district court granted the Respondent/City’s motion to dismiss
      • Appellant appealed

Issues:

      • Whether the conduct of the government constitutes a find within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
      • Whether the find was reasonable?

Discussion

  1. Whether the conduct of the government constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?

Court held that chalking is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The court refers to the Supreme Court judgment dealing with “property-based” approach to the Fourth Amendment search inquiry in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 132 S.Ct. 945, 181 L.Ed.2d 911 (2012).

Trespass to obtain information has occurred

Under Jones, a search occurs when the government:

(1) trespasses upon a constitutionally protected area,

(2) to obtain information

The Court held that here has been a trespass in this case because the Respondent/City made intentional physical contact with Appellant’s vehicle.

The court then proceeded to determine whether the trespass was “conjoined with an attempt to find something or to obtain information.” Neither party disputes that the Respondent/City uses the chalk marks for the purpose of identifying vehicles that have been parked in the same location for a certain period of time. That information is then used by the Respondent/City to issue citations. The court held that the practice amounts to an attempt to obtain information under Jones.

  1. Whether the search was reasonable

Arguments by Appellant

      • Respondent/City failed to establish an exception to the warrant requirement.
      • Search at issue is not covered by the community caretaker exception
      • Respondent/City fails to establish that any other exception applies to their warrantless search.

Arguments by Respondent/City

      • Even if chalking is a search under Jones, the search was reasonable
      • There is a reduced expectation of privacy in an automobile.
      • The search was subject to the community caretaker exception.

Holdings:

Non applicability of automobile exception

The court explained though an automobile enjoys a “reduced expectation of privacy” due to its “ready mobility,” this diminished expectation of privacy is what justified the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The automobile exception permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant if they have “probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” No such probable cause existed here. Thus, the automobile exception is inapplicable.

Respondent’s reliance on Cardwell was rejected

Respondent/City referred to Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 590, 94 S.Ct. 2464, 41 L.Ed.2d 325 (1974) and contended that if scraping paint from a car without a warrant was held reasonable, then certainly placing washable chalk on a vehicle’s tire is reasonable.  The court distinguished the present case from Cardwell and held that

      • The vehicle in Cardwell was towed by the police following an arrest.
      • The warrantless search in Cardwell was upheld on the basis that it was conducted upon “probable cause.
      • Here, unlike Cardwell, the Respondent/City commences its search on vehicles that are parked legally, without probable cause or even so much as “individualized suspicion of wrongdoing”—the touchstone of the reasonableness standard.

The Court thus rejected the Respondent/City’s contention that searching Appellant’s vehicle was reasonable based solely on its reduced expectation of privacy.

Non-Applicability of community caretaker exception.

      • Respondent/City failed to demonstrate how this search bears a relation to public safety.
      • Respondent/City failed to show that the location or length of time that Appellant’s vehicle was parked created the type of “hazard” or traffic impediment amounting to a public safety concern. Respondent failed to show that delaying the find would result in “injury or ongoing harm to the community.”
      • To the contrary, at the time of the search, Appellant’s vehicle was lawfully parked in a proper parking location, imposing no safety risk whatsoever.

The court held that as the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not to mitigate public hazard, the Respondent/City was not acting in its “role as a community caretaker

Judgement

The Court held as follows,

      • Chalking is a search under the Fourth Amendment, as per Supreme Court’s decision in Jones.
      • The Court however does not expressly state that chalking violates the Fourth Amendment.
      • The court restricts its order to state that two exceptions to the warrant requirement—the “community caretaking” exception and the motor-vehicle exception—do not apply to the present case.

The District Court’s order granting the Respondent/City’s motion to dismiss is reversed and remanded. C