State and Local

Most Americans usually deal with law enforcement officials at the state and local levels. For example, each state has a state police force or department and a sheriff’s department for each county (or “borough” in New York or “parish” in Louisiana). On top of that, practically every city, town, or village has a police force – whether it’s made up of hundreds of officers or just one.

How do they all work together? As a general rule, each has authority or jurisdiction to enforce the laws of and within their state, county, or city. So, for instance, a state trooper in State Y doesn’t have any authority to enforce State Y laws in State Z; a police officer in City A doesn’t have jurisdiction to enforce City A laws in City B, even if A and B are in the same state.

Like many general rules, there are some exceptions, though:

  • An officer can cross jurisdictional boundaries and make an arrest if he’s in hot pursuit of someone suspected of a committing a crime within the officer’s jurisdiction
  • In some states, city or municipal police officers may make arrests anywhere in the state, while in other states they may make arrests anywhere in the county in which the city is located
  • If an officer (state, county, or local) has an arrest warrant, she usually has authority to arrest the person named in the warrant anywhere in the state
  • Officers often have authority to enforce local laws on federal land or buildings. For example, breaking speed limit laws in a national park, or armed robbery of a federally insured bank
  • Many states, counties, and cities have mutual aid or cross-jurisdictional agreements giving officers from one jurisdiction the authority to act in another jurisdiction

As you can see, the old ploy of running across a state or city boundary line after committing a crime or traffic violation probably won’t do anyone any good anymore. While there are still some jurisdictional limits, the lines are becoming more and more blurred. This is especially so when poor economic conditions and budget woes make it necessary for police forces to combine efforts to keep their citizens safe.

Nonetheless, an officer’s authority to act is key. If there’s any question about an officer’s authority to give you a traffic ticket or arrest you for some other offense, you should talk to an attorney immediately.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can an officer from City A give me a ticket in City B for doing something that’s a crime only in City A?
  • If a county officer is hurt while on duty but in another county, which county is responsible for worker’s compensation? Which county is responsible if the officer is accused of violating the civil rights of someone outside his county?
  • I was involved in an accident in State A and taken by ambulance to a hospital in State B. A county sheriff from State A followed the ambulance and arrested me in State B for DUI/DWI? Was the arrest legal?
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