Drivers, Rejoice! That Parking Ticket Just May Be a Violation of Constitutional Proportions

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In towns and cities across the U.S., one may hear a cheer go up among drivers long plagued by the scourge of parking tickets after a federal appeals court ruled that parking enforcement’s use of chalk to mark tires (and time) to issue parking tickets is a violation of Fourth Amendment bans on unreasonable searches.

Say, what? Yup. As the lawyer in the case told the Washington Post, they made “a federal case out of tire-chalking.”

And the ruling could have real implications, not just for drivers who make a habit of overstaying their welcome in parking spots, but for municipalities that depend on parking ticket fines to fill city coffers and don’t necessarily want to shell out the funds to buy actual meters.

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The use of tire chalk to determine how long someone’s been parked most often happens in places where there’s signage detailing how long one can stay parked, but where there are no metered machines to mark the time.

But last year, a Saginaw, Mich., lawyer, Philip Ellison, was outraged when his law partner’s tire was marked and he got a parking ticket while he was sitting in the car talking on the phone with Ellison.

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A Facebook rant led to a friend of Ellison telling him about getting some 15 tickets due to the use of tire chalk, and a federal lawsuit was born.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution forbids “unreasonable searches.” Initially, a lower court in Bay City, Mich., dismissed the lawsuit, finding that while chalking was a kind of search, it was not “unreasonable.”

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However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, finding that the use of chalking was similar to police use of GPS with vehicles during an investigation. And the court found that because the U.S. Supreme Court has restricted the use of GPS in gathering information in police probes, similarly, the use of chalk for the purpose of gathering info to hand out tickets should also be curtailed.

Score 1 for ... scofflaws?

No word on whether Saginaw will appeal.

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