Remain Within the Jurisdiction

It is a regular condition of probation for all supervised probationers that they “[r]emain within the jurisdiction of the court unless granted written permission to leave by the court or [their] probation officer.” G.S. 15A-1343(b)(2).

What does “jurisdiction” mean in that statute? The county in which probation was imposed? The judicial district? The entire state? The law isn’t clear, and there’s disagreement on the issue around the state. The confusion stems in part from the fact that jurisdiction can mean multiple things. It can refer to the court’s physical location, its legal authority, or to the geographical limits over which that authority may be exercised.

I think the clearest reading of the jurisdiction of the court in this context is the state of North Carolina. The court that imposes probation always retains authority to alter or revoke it under G.S. 15A-1344(a), and that court also has the power to issue an order for arrest—valid throughout the state under G.S. 15A-305(d)—in response to an alleged violation. So, from a judicial authority standpoint, a probationer remains within the sentencing court’s reach regardless of where he or she travels within the state.

If the condition was intended to restrict a probationer to the county or judicial district in which probation was imposed I think the General Assembly would have said so more clearly. In fact, the legislature did say it more clearly last year when it added the default condition for probationers subject to intermediate punishment that they “[r]emain within the county of residence unless granted written permission to leave.” G.S. 15A-1343(b4)(3). If “jurisdiction of the court” in regular condition #5 already meant “county of residence,” there would have been little reason to add that new, ostensibly more restrictive condition in 2009.

There are no reported decisions that answer the question directly. A case that comes close is Donoghue v. N.C. Department of Correction, 166 N.C. App. 612 (2004), which involved a probation officer’s appeal of a disciplinary demotion. When discussing whether the officer engaged in “grossly inefficient job performance” by allowing a probationer to visit another state, the court of appeals (and litigant DOC) consistently read the remain-within-the-jurisdiction condition as a limit on out-of-state (not out-of-county) travel. There are, for what it’s worth, unpublished cases that appear to read the condition differently. See State v. Taylor, 180 N.C. App. 477 (2006) (unpub.) (affirming a revocation for failure to remain within the jurisdiction of the court when a Richmond County probationer eluded supervision in Scotland County); State v. Jones, 179 N.C. App. 435 (2006) (unpub.) (concluding that a probationer failed to remain within the jurisdiction of the court  by “giving a false address and not making himself available for supervision”). Those cases look to me like “failure to report” violations pegged to the wrong condition of supervision, although I suppose that’s not necessarily a problem under State v. Hubbard, 198 N.C. App. 154 (2009) (holding that a violation report that did not clearly state the particular condition violated nonetheless gave a probationer sufficient notice when it set out the behavior that constituted a violation) (also discussed here).

Probation officers should note that the Division of Community Corrections takes the position that jurisdiction of the court in G.S. 15A-1343(b)(2) includes the entire state of North Carolina. Policy & Procedures § D.0302(b). If there’s ever a dispute about it, that administrative interpretation would be entitled to significant deference from the courts. Jones v. Keller, 364 N.C. 249 (2010).