Police Jurisdiction in Satellite and Related Areas

I’ve had several questions recently about the territorial jurisdiction of municipal police in areas outside city limits. This post sums up the law.

General rule: city limits plus one mile. The general rule is that police officers have “all the powers invested in law-enforcement officers by statute or common law within one mile of the corporate limits of the city.” G.S. 160A-286.

No territorial jurisdiction in the ETJ. Cities have the authority to regulate land use up to one mile outside city limits. Under some circumstances, larger cities may have such jurisdiction two or even three miles outside city limits, and so beyond the one-mile radius that generally constrains municipal police. The area outside city limits but subject to city land-use regulations is generally called the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or “the ETJ.” Authority for the ETJ is found in G.S. 160A-360, and is discussed in detail here by my colleague David Owens.

If there’s a two- or three-mile ETJ, do city police have territorial jurisdiction throughout it? No. The land in the ETJ is not within the “corporate limits” of the city, which is the term used in G.S. 15A-286. Nor does G.S. 160A-360 expand officers’ jurisdiction. That statute only allows cities to apply their land use and development regulations in the ETJ, as David explains here.

Territorial jurisdiction exists in satellite areas. North Carolina cities don’t have to be contiguous. That is to say, under certain circumstances, a city can annex a pocket or island of land that isn’t connected to the main municipal territory. See generally G.S. 160A-58 et seq. These noncontiguous areas are generally called “satellite areas.” Do officers have territorial jurisdiction in these areas? Yes, regardless of their distance from the main municipal territory. They are within the “corporate limits” of the city. Officers also have authority within one mile of the borders of these areas. June 2018 update: an informal  advisory letter from the Attorney General’s office agrees that the one mile rule applies to satellite areas.

What about hot pursuit? Under G.S 15A-402(d), officers also have authority to pursue and arrest suspects outside the one-mile radius beyond city limits when in hot pursuit.

Other exceptions. Officers may also arrest beyond the one-mile radius when on any property owned or leased by the city, G.S. 160A-286, or on any “rights-of-way owned by the city,” G.S. 15A-402(b). My colleague Bob Farb has suggested that the one-mile radius may apply around these areas as well, though the statutes do not say so explicitly and there is no case on point. Robert L. Farb, Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina 15 n. 21 (4th ed. 2011).

There are also local acts expanding the one-mile radius for certain cities. For example, there is a 2000-yard limit applicable to Edenton, S.L. 1961-1013, and a two-mile limit applicable to Weaverville, S.L. 1961-557. I’m sure there are other examples; if readers are aware of any, please say so in the comment thread.

Finally, there is expanded territorial jurisdiction for certain DWI-related offenses. See Robert L. Farb, Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina 16 (4th ed. 2011).

What happens if an officers acts outside his or her authority? If an officer makes an arrest outside his or her territorial jurisdiction, that’s a statutory problem but not a constitutional one. Cf. Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164 (2008) (ruling that although Virginia law did not authorize arrest for misdemeanor driving with a suspended license, such an arrest did not violate the Fourth Amendment or implicate the constitutional exclusionary rule). The arrestee might still argue for suppression of any evidence obtained as a result of the arrest under the statutory exclusionary rule in G.S. 15A-974. A summary of the relevant cases, which on balance are not very favorable to the arrestee, can be found in Robert L. Farb, Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina 89-90 (4th ed. 2011).

13 thoughts on “Police Jurisdiction in Satellite and Related Areas”

  1. To expand upon the reference to expanded territorial jurisdiction for certain DWI-related offenses, it is important to note NC GS 20-38.2 which states, “A law enforcement officer who is investigating an implied-consent offense or a vehicle crash that occurred in the officer’s territorial jurisdiction is authorized to investigate and seek evidence of the driver’s impairment anywhere in-state or out-of-state, and to make arrests at any place within the State.”

    This is an important statute because many smaller municipal agencies have to go outside their jurisdiction to the local hospital when investigating DWI(s) and motor vehicle collisions. Without this statute it would create a lot of issues.

  2. Does the one mile ETJ (for zoning) also include the application of a city ordinance to properties within that ETJ? Specifically an ordinance restricting dog tethering. We have a tethering ordinance and our zoning officer feels that we can enforce this outside of our corporate limits (within our ETJ), but I have told him that we can only do general statutes.

  3. I’m in Goldsboro, NC. We have a Wal-Mart shopping center which has been “satillite annexed” and is approximately 3 miles outside the City’s corporate limits. I know we have 1 mile outside the corporate limits and according to the information here we would have 1 mile around the shopping center, but that leaves a mile or so in-between. Do officers have any jurisdiction/authority in that “in-between” area as they travel back and forth to/from the satillite area?

    I’ll also mention that we have one store which is also satillited in about half way between the City Limits and the Wal-Mart. Considering this location and the 1 mile around it, would it be safe to say officers have jurisdiction in this entire area as they go to & from the Wal-Mart? Thanks for your input!

    • By what I’m reading, if the boundary of the satellite area is no more than two miles (as the crow flies) from another corporate limit, then yes, you would have jurisdiction “in between.” However, if the satellite area is further than that, absent an agreement between the county and your agency, police jurisdiction would be limited.

      This is only my opinion.

  4. Idk about y’all but I’m from a small, poor town where the city or county police can and do whatever they want because no one around here really has the $ to challenge them. And, most importantly, there is no oversight over the police in these areas,, meaning they are literally ABOVE THE LAW. And cops wonder why the broader population in the USA have become more n more disgusted by them.

  5. In Hohenwald TN there has been 3 different officers caught having a sexual relationship with underage girls. And in one instance, the officer was charged by the state with molestation. But shocker, nothing happened and all 3 are still in law enforcement?? Yet in one instance, the father of one of the underage girls was forced to step down as asst. Preacher,, so the dad got punished.. Can u say, corruption? And former police chief’s wife was caught embezzling $$ from a federal insured bank. Also no charges filed, was allowed to payback. Now there’s not one person in the USA that would get that deal,, that is unless they r a cop or a cops family! I really wish an outsider that knew what they were doing would look into that town, but nobody will because the examples they r given r so unbelievable, that outsiders believe they r made up or come from a criminal. So it’s a Never ending cycle!

  6. I have read above. From what I understand the “EJT” is for property development. Does that include local ordinances or strictly property ordinances. Also does that law also include things such as landscaping, outdoor cooking ares and other things that are added?

  7. In Holly Ridge NC pop 1500 approx. the officers routinely run radar and issue tickets 2-3 miles from city limits. How is this legal?

  8. would an infraction citation issued (not an arrest) by a municipal officer, in a different municipality from his, without a mutual aid agreement, be invalid ab initio, as without jurisdiction or authority, even though evidence might not be suppressed in a subsequent citation issued by an authorized officer? even if the citation meets all requirements, otherwise, would it not be the equivalent of a “citizen’s citation”?

  9. Can anyone assist with the following question: “Would the G.S. 160A-286, ETJ rule also apply to Hospital Police? I notice where it specifically mentions city and county officers but am not sure when it comes to Hospital Police, specifically UNC Hospital property. Thanks for any guidance.

    • Company police officers such as those employed by hospitals do not have any ETJ. Their territorial jurisdiction is confined to property owned by their employer though they may pursue onto public streets and highways if they are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect who committed a crime on their employer’s property. Company police are however eligible to enter into mutual aid agreements with municipal or county law enforcement agencies for as-needed services.


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