Can An Officer Act Outside of Their Jurisdiction in DUI Investigations?

September 29, 2021 Criminal Defense, Drunk Driving/DUI

If you or a loved one are ever pulled over by a law enforcement official, it is important to know if the officer is acting lawfully outside of their jurisdiction. A question that often comes up in DUI investigations is whether a law enforcement officer can participate in a DUI investigation outside of their jurisdiction? An example would be an officer of one county conducting a field sobriety test in another county.

Brief Explanation

The brief answer is generally no. An officer may arrest an offender outside his jurisdiction “when two enforcement agencies entered into a mutual aid agreement that permits the extraterritorial conduct by the outside police municipality.” However, an officer cannot “act under the color of the law” in an outside jurisdiction, and a DUI investigation is deemed as “acting under the color of the law.”

Generally, officers outside of the jurisdiction have no official power to arrest an offender outside the boundaries of their county or municipality. However, an officer can arrest an offender outside of his jurisdiction when the law enforcement agencies involved enter into a mutual aid agreement that permits such conduct. Though arrest is not the same as investigation, since the arrest resulted from the investigation, it would generally fall under the same rule.

Exceptions to the Rule

A few exceptions exist for the above-stated rule. The first exception is for fresh or hot pursuit. If a law enforcement officer sees a crime occur in their own county and then pursue that suspect into another county, the officer can lawfully follow them into the neighboring county. However, this chase cannot last forever, and officers should contact police officers in other counties if the pursuit continues. The second exception is for exigent circumstances. Due to the nature of this exception, it nearly never arises in the DUI context. The third exception, and most common for DUIs, is the mutual aid agreement described above. 

What Does “Under Color of Office” Mean?

The power described above is granted by the ‘under color of office’ doctrine. This doctrine pertains “only to prevent law enforcement officials from using the powers of their office to observe unlawful activity of gain access to evidence not available to a private citizen.” Additionally, “[w]hen law enforcement officers assert official authority, either expressly or implicitly, in order to gain access to evidence, that evidence must be suppressed.” But “this doctrine does not prevent officers from making an otherwise valid citizen’s arrest just because they happen to be in uniform or otherwise clothed with the indicia of their position when making the arrest.”

However, courts have found that officers who begin conducting a DUI investigation are acting “under the color of law” since a private citizen would not be permitted to lawfully administer a breathalyzer test or conduct a field sobriety test. The court “recognized that if an officer gains access to evidence using the powers of office, he has acted under the color of law.”

Citizen Arrests

Another interesting situation arises in citizen arrests. The Fourth District Court of Appeal has stated that “[i]n addition to any official power to arrest, police officers also have a common law right as citizens to make so-called citizen’s arrests. We do not mean to imply that police officers acting outside their jurisdictions are treated as private persons for the purposes of the exclusionary rule. Rather, we mean that the Legislature, by vesting police officers with official powers, did not intend to divest the officers of their common law right as citizens to make arrests.”

Case Illustration: Mattos v. State

In Mattos, the court found that an outside officer approaching the defendant in uniform after activating the police car’s emergency lights did not constitute “acting under the color of law.”. However, one the officer attempted to have the defendant submit to a “breathalyzer and perform field sobriety exercises, he was seeking evidence only available to him in his capacity of a law enforcement officer.” The court concluded that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, but only with respect to the evidence gathered by the officer once he began acting under the color of law, meaning the breathalyzer and sobriety exercises.

The Rule

All Florida courts who have analyzed the issue of actions taken “under color of office” conducted outside of the officer’s jurisdiction have found that such actions are unlawful.

Tallahassee DUI Defense Attorney

A DUI charge can result in life-long and severe penalties. It is incredibly important to have the help and guidance of an experienced Tallahassee DUI defense attorney who can fight for you and assist you or a loved one in navigating this process. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending against DUI charges and can ensure that we will explore every defense in your favor. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

This article was written by Gabi D’Esposito

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