Judging Traffic (April 2019)
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Sixth Circuit: Chalking tires to enforce parking ordinance violates Fourth Amendment

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the practice of chalking tires to enforce parking ordinances violates the Fourth Amendment. In Taylor v. City of Saginaw, the court held that such chalking is a common-law trespass upon a constitutionally protected area that was intended to obtain information, thus a "search" for Fourth Amendment purposes. Where the District Court found such a search "reasonable" due to a lesser expectation of privacy with automobiles, the Court of Appeals held that the automobile exception to the need for a search warrant applied only where there was already probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. The Sixth Circuit also rejected the community caretaker exception which allows a search to ensure public safety is not at risk such as when a vehicle is abandoned. Because the purpose of chalking was to raise revenue for the city and not to ensure public safety, the community caretaker exception was also rejected.

Michigan: Search of a vehicle does not extend to passenger's personal property; 2007 case overturned

The Michigan Supreme Court unanimously held earlier this week that a traffic stop may be sufficient to search a vehicle but that such a stop alone cannot be used as the basis to search a passenger's personal belongings. The defendant in People v. Mead was the passenger in a car that had been pulled over due to an expired license plate. The detaining officer, in asking the driver for license and registration, noted that Mead was clutching a black backpack in his lap. The officer obtained permission from the driver to search the vehicle and directed the driver and Mead to exit the vehicle. The subsequent search of the vehicle included searching Mead's backpack which was left inside the car. Based on the items found Mead was arrested and convicted of possession of methamphetamine. In 2007 the Michigan Supreme Court had upheld an almost identical search (People v. LaBelle) holding that a) the driver's consent was sufficient to include LaBelle's backpack and b) even absent driver consent the passenger lacks standing to challenge such a search. The Mead court, however, overruled LaBelle, holding in operative part "that a person—whether she is a passenger in a vehicle, or a pedestrian, or a homeowner, or a hotel guest—may challenge an alleged Fourth Amendment violation if she can show under the totality of the circumstances that she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched and that her expectation of privacy was one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable."

North Carolina: Traffic stop cannot be sustained based on an inaccurate, vague anonymous tip

A panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals this month held that a traffic stop based on an anonymous tip that was only partially accurate and did not report a crime was insufficient to justify a traffic stop. In State vs. Horton the law enforcement officer received an anonymous tip that a "suspicious white male...with a gold or silver vehicle" was in a parking lot walking around a closed business. The officer followed the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop of the African-American defendant. The court held that the tip was insufficient (merely describing a person as "suspicious"), inaccurate ("white male") and vague ("gold or silver vehicle"). Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Sokolow, the Court of Appeals panel held that the justification for the traffic stop was nothing more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch.'"

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