San Diego

Tire Chalking in San Diego Could Stop After Federal Court Ruling

On San Diego’s busiest streets, parking control officers routinely chalk your tires and return an hour or two later.

If your car or truck is still there, they’ll leave you a ticket for exceeding the maximum time at the meter.

But a federal appeals court now says a Michigan police department violated a motorist’s constitutional protection against search and seizure when they chalked her tires.

In a unanimous decision, three justices of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the city of Saginaw, Michigan violated Alison Taylor’s “right against unreasonable searches by placing chalk marks on her tires without her consent or a valid search warrant.”

The justices reasoned that because a vehicle is legally parked when it’s chalked, authorities cannot assume you’ve done anything wrong, and thus cannot trespass on your property.

San Diego attorney and legal analyst Dan Eaton said the appeals court’s decision is based in part of its conclusion that parking meter tickets in Saginaw are written only to generate income for government, not to protect or safeguard the public in its authority as a “community caretaker.”

Eaton predicts vehicle owners in San Diego and across the country will now mount similar legal challenges to their parking meter tickets.

The 6th District Court’s ruling applies to just four states in that district. Eaton told NBC 7 it’s possible other district courts will reach a different conclusion.

So this dispute over the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal search and seizure could eventually be decided by the nation’s highest court.

“That’s the kind of thing that gets the United States Supreme Court’s attention,” Eaton said of the possible divergence of district court rulings. “Because the law of the Fourth Amendment should not mean one thing in Saginaw, Michigan and another thing in San Diego, California.”

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