Lack of Jurisdiction Leads to Dismissal

As reported in the January 2, 2012 edition of the Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, a North Smithfield traffic case was dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction. The motorist led police on a high speed chase into Massachusetts, where he was eventually apprehended and issued four (4) traffic violations.

The Rhode Island Appeals Panel of the Traffic Tribunal, overruled the trial judge, and dismissed all violations because of jurisdiction. Pursuant to Rhode Island law, there are two (2) limited exceptions in which officers can seize and arrest a person out of the officer's jurisdiction, close pursuit and emergency police powers. However, both of those exceptions only allow officers to cross town and city borders within the State of Rhode Island. In this case, the Rhode Island officer crossed state lines and arrested the motorist in Massachusetts. In reviewing Massachusetts law, the Appeals Panel found Massachusetts only allows out of state police officers to make arrests if the person has committed a felony.

In any drunk driving case a question may arise as to whether the arresting officer had authority to apprehend the suspected drunk driver in another jurisdiction. In Rhode Island the statutes controlling extraterritorial warrantless arrests are R.I.G.L. 12-7-19 (Arrest after close pursuit by officers from cities or towns) and R.I.G.L. 45-42-1 (Emergency police power). The close pursuit statute states that "any member of a municipal peace unit of another city or town of the state who enters any city or town in close pursuit, of a person in order to arrest him or her for a violation of the motor vehicle code in the other city or town and continues within any city or town in close pursuit, shall have the same authority to arrest and hold the person in custody as members of the municipal peace unit in any city or town." The intent of the close pursuit statute is to allow a police officer from one Rhode Island community to enter into another Rhode Island community if in close pursuit of a suspect for an arrestable offense. The intent of the statue was upheld in the 2001 decision of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in State v. Kinder. In Kinder, the Court held that "based on the totality of the circumstances, town police officer had probable cause to arrest defendant within town and to charge him with reckless driving, and thus, officer had authority to closely pursue defendant into nearby city to make the same arrest, under statute authorizing out-of-jurisdiction arrest after close pursuit, where officer observed the defendant driving 65 miles per hour (mph) in a 25 mph zone and move from traveling lane to passing lane without signaling, narrowly avoiding collision with another vehicle."

The emergency police powers statute states that "when the police chief of a city or town within the state or his or her designee requests emergency police assistance from another police department within the state, the officers responding to the request shall be subject to the authority of the requesting chief and have the same authority, powers, duties, privileges, and immunities of a duly appointed police officer of the city or town making the request, until the requesting chief of police discharges and releases the assisting police officers to their own departments." The intent of the emergency police powers statute was upheld in the case of State v. Ceraso, in which a Newport police officer was instructed by his superior officer to respond to a roll-over accident that had occurred on the Jamestown side of the Newport Bridge. Upon his arrival, the Newport police officer "observed a scene of absolute chaos." After setting up a roadblock, the Newport police officer observed a vehicle, driven by Mr. Ceraso, fail to obey his command to stop at the roadblock and the vehicle sped by him in an erratic manner. Subsequently, Mr. Ceraso was stopped by another Newport police officer and arrested for drunk driving. The Rhode Island Supreme Court in upholding the drunk driver's conviction held that the "officer was justified in stopping the vehicle pursuant to the emergency police power exception to the general rule that the authority of the local police department is limited to its own jurisdiction."

In both Massachusetts and Rhode Island drunk driving cases the question of extraterritorial warrantless stops and arrests are always an important issue and may be fatal to the State's prosecution of these serious cases. Recently, the Law Offices of Robert H. Humphrey has had two (2) drunk driving cases dismissed based on the lack of jurisdiction argument. If you or a family member have been charged with drunk driving, refusal to submit to a chemical test or other driving related violations, please allow Attorney Robert H. Humphrey's reputation, experience and skill to successfully guide you through the legal process. Contact Robert H. Humphrey at 401-816-5862 or e-mail him at

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