Chalk One Up for the Little Guy

ChalkingHave you ever gotten a parking ticket? More to the point, have you ever had your tires chalked before?  Really annoying it is sometimes.  Recently, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously ruled that “chalking” is a violation of the Fourth Amendment in Taylor v. City of Saginaw, et al.  Yeah, they really did!

What Is Chalking?

If you’re like me, you have probably never heard of “chalking” until now.  Chalking is mechanism parking enforcement officers have used in the past to impose parking time limits. It works like this: the officer will mark a parked car tire with chalk to help keep track of how long the car has been parked in a particular spot, and then ticket individuals which go over the time limit.

The Fourth Amendment:

The text of 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 probably cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”. Simply put, the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In determining whether a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred, courts will use this two-step analysis: 1. Does the government activity constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment 2. Is the search reasonable?

As to the search inquiry, the Sixth Circuit concluded that chalking constituted a search under United States v. Jones. More specifically, “Under Jones, when governmental invasions are accompanied by physical intrusions, a search occurs when the government (1) trespasses upon a constitutionally protected area, (2) to obtain information”. (United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012).) Secondly, as to the reasonableness inquiry, the Court determined that the search was unreasonable under United States v. Smith, because the automobile exception does not apply due to lack of probable cause. If you aren’t familiar with the automobile exception, it allows officers to search a vehicle without a warrant so long as there is probable cause. (United States v. Smith, 510 F.3d 641, 647 (6th Cir. 2007).

If you’re interested in reading the Opinion, you can check it out  at

~written by:
Haleigh Teegarden
Library Research Fellow, 2019-20

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