We have all experienced this — you park your car in a zone indicated with a maximum parking time period and come back to your vehicle to find your tires have been marked with chalk. This common parking enforcement practice is known as “chalking,” whereby City parking enforcement officers mark the tires of parked vehicles with to track how long they have been parked. If a “chalked” car is still parked in the zone when the parking enforcement officer returns to the area after the posted time for parking has passed, the officer issues a parking citation.
In the April 22, 2019 published opinion in Taylor v City of Saginaw, __ F3d __ (CA 6, 2019), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that this “chalking” practice amounts to a warrantless search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and, that two exceptions to the warrant requirement — the “community caretaker” exception and the motor vehicle exception — do not apply.
First, to determine whether a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred, the Court looked at whether “chalking” constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The court held that the practice of chalking constituted a common-law trespass, and that the trespass was conducted to obtain information.
Once the court determined that there had been a warrantless search, it considered the reasonableness of the search. First, the court rejected the City’s argument that the warrantless search of a vehicle through “chalking” is reasonable under the “automobile exception” which permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. The court held that there was no such probable cause here.
The court also found no merit to the City’s contention that the parking enforcement officer was performing a “community-caretaker” functions, rather than traditional law-enforcement functions. This exception to the warrant requirement is applied only in narrow circumstances when public safety is at risk. The court held that the City failed to show how the search was related to public safety or how delaying a search to get a warrant “would result in ‘injury or ongoing harm to the community.’” Additionally, “[b]ecause the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not to mitigate public hazard, the City was not acting in its” community caretaker role.
On April 25, 2019, the Court amended its opinion and clarified that it did not hold that “chalking” necessarily constituted a warrantless search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Rather, its holding was limited to the pleading stage of the litigation and the fact that the “community caretaker” exception and the motor vehicle exception — do not apply at this stage of the litigation.
Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys of Southfield, Michigan has a dedicated appeals department led by Matthew Klakulak, who participates in our cases by laying the groundwork for a successful trial or bringing a successful resolution without ever having to have a trial.
Mr. Klakulak is also available to consult on other firm’s appeals. Flexible fee structuring or engagement arrangements are available to other firms.Share this Article