The Long Arm of the Law is a Bit Longer for DWIs

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Local law enforcement officers have a little bit of extra territorial jurisdiction when it comes to investigating impaired driving.  That grant of extra territorial jurisdiction (as opposed to extraterritorial jurisdiction, which city officers already had) was created by the Motor Vehicle Driver Protection Act of 2006 and codified in G.S. 20-38.2.

General Rules.

G.S. 15A-402 sets forth the rules that generally govern the territorial jurisdiction of such officers.

County law enforcement officers. County officers may arrest persons anywhere within the county and outside of the county on any county-owned property.  They also may arrest people outside of these areas when the person has committed a criminal offense within one of these areas for which the officer could have arrested the person and the arrest is made during the person’s immediate and continuous flight from the territory. County officers also may arrest persons anywhere in North Carolina when the arrest is based upon a felony committed within the county or on county-owned property.

Municipal law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers of cities may arrest people within the city, within one mile of the corporate limits of the city, and on any city-owned property outside of the city.  They also may arrest people outside of these areas when the person has committed a criminal offense within one of these areas for which the officer could have arrested the person and the arrest is made during the person’s immediate and continuous flight from the territory.

Campus police. Campus police officers may arrest people on property owned by or leased to the institution employing the officer and any portion of public road passing through the property or immediately adjoining it. A campus police officer may arrest a person outside his or her territorial jurisdiction when the person arrested has committed a criminal offense within the territorial jurisdiction, for which the officer could have arrested the person within that territory, and the arrest is made during the person’s immediate and continuous flight from that territory. Institutions may enter into joint agreements with municipalities to extend the law enforcement authority of campus police officers into the municipality’s jurisdiction. G.S. 115D-21.1; 116-40.5.

G.S. 20-38.2.

Notwithstanding the general limitations set forth above, a law enforcement officer who is investigating an implied-consent offense or a vehicle crash that occurred in the officer’s territorial jurisdiction may

  • investigate and seek evidence of the driver’s impairment anywhere in-state or out-of-state, and
  • may make arrests anywhere within the state.

Thus, this provision broadens the jurisdiction of county law enforcement officers over misdemeanor implied consent offenses, like impaired driving, and expands the jurisdiction of municipal law enforcement officers and campus police officers for all such offenses.

Expanded Jurisdiction – Not Statewide Jurisdiction. Since the expanded jurisdiction granted by G.S. 20-38.2 is limited to implied consent offenses or crashes that occurred within the officer’s territorial jurisdiction, G.S. 20-38.2 does not vest local law enforcement officers with the statewide territorial jurisdiction enjoyed by other state officers such as members of the state highway patrol, who are authorized to make arrests throughout the state for any crime committed in their presence and for any crime committed on any highway. G.S. 20-188 (providing that members of the State Highway Patrol have “jurisdiction anywhere within the State, irrespective of county lines”).

Practical Impact.  The provision allowing a law enforcement officer to investigate implied consent offenses anywhere in the state appears to allow a law enforcement officer to seek the withdrawal of a suspect’s blood at a hospital located outside of his or her territory. It may also allow a local law officer to transport a defendant for breath testing outside of the officer’s territory, though the court of appeals held even before the enactment of G.S. 20-38.2 that such out-of-territory testing was not a statutory violation, and, even if it was, it did not warrant suppression of the resulting evidence. See State v. Pearson, 131 N.C. App. 315, 317-18 (1998). In any event, G.S. 20-38.3(2) explicitly authorizes a law enforcement officer to take a person arrested to any place in the state for one or more chemical analyses and for evaluation to determine the extent or cause of the person’s impairment. G.S. 20-38.2 also permits a law enforcement officer to follow a suspected impaired driver out of his or her city or county to arrest the person, even if the person is not fleeing from the officer.  But in most cases, the officer will make the stop within his or her general territory.

This, combined with the limited success motions to suppress based on territorial violations have enjoyed in the appellate courts, see, e.g., State v. Scruggs, 209 N.C. App. 725, 730 (2011), leads me to suspect that the enactment of G.S. 20-38.2 has effected little change in law enforcement officers’ practices.  If you see it otherwise, please share your view of the provision’s impact.

2 comments on “The Long Arm of the Law is a Bit Longer for DWIs

  1. This law allowing additional jurisdiction over DWIs and crashes is extremely beneficial when investigating hit & run offenses.

  2. The one mile municipal jurisdiction does not limit an agency that has 2 miles granted under its charter does it?

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