E-Newsletter Edition: Feb 10, 2010
Response Provided By: Brian S. Batterton, Attorney
Always note that state law may be more restrictive on police power than the U.S. Constitution.
I serve as an officer in a town in Missouri of approximately 1100 population. I had stopped a driver outside of my jurisdiction for a traffic violation. I had initiated all my emergency equipment prior to exiting the community to make the car stop (emphasis added). I stopped the driver and issued a citation for failing to stop at a posted stop sign. In court the issue came up that our town was a fourth class city, and I (or any other law enforcement of my town) could not exit the community to make a car stop. Apparently there is case law that addresses this situation. Is there any that you are aware of?
In 2007, the Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, decided the State v. Renfrowi which has similar facts to the question presented. The facts of Renfrow, taken from the case, are as follows:
In the early morning hours on February 19, 2005, Officer Jeffery Gottman, a part-time officer for the City of Lancaster, was traveling west within the city limits of Lancaster on U.S. Highway 136 in his city patrol car. As he approached the intersection of U.S. Highways 63 and 136, Officer Gottman observed a 1996 Black Ford Ranger pickup swerve across the centerline. As the pickup proceeded through the intersection across U.S. Highway 63 and onto State Highway 202 outside the city limits, Officer Gottman observed the pickup veer off the intersection onto the shoulder of the road. The pickup then shot back across the road, crossed the centerline, crossed back over the fog line, and started driving with one wheel on the gravel and the other on the highway. After Officer Gottman crossed U.S. Highway 63, he activated the emergency equipment on his vehicle and followed the pickup until it stopped. Because the centerline of U.S. Highway 63 is the city limits for the City of Lancaster, Officer Gottman was outside the city limits when he activated his emergency equipment and stopped the vehicle…
The officer detected the odor of alcoholic beverage and called a trooper to the stop to conduct field sobriety evaluations. Refrow was arrested for DUI. In court, he filed a motion to suppress based on the fact that the officer made a stop outside of his jurisdiction. The trial court denied the motion and Renfrow was convicted. He appealed.
Thus, the issue before the court was whether the traffic stop made outside of the officer’s jurisdiction was lawful under Missouri law.
In answering this question the court stated:
It is well established as a general rule that, in the absence of statute, municipal police officers have no official power to apprehend offenders beyond the boundaries of their municipality. City of Advance v. Md. Cas. Co., 302 S.W.2d 28, 31-32 (Mo. 1957). Although section 85.610 gives marshals of cities of the fourth class “power to make arrests without process, in all cases in which any offenses against the laws of the city or of the state shall be committed in [their] presence,” “[t]his section does not empower the marshal to make an arrest beyond the city limits.” Id. (quoting section 85.610, RSMo 1949).
The court then noted that Missouri law has an exception to the above rule. The court stated:
An exception exits, however, where a law enforcement officer is in fresh pursuit of a person who has committed any criminal offense or violation of a municipal or county ordinance. Section 544.157.1. “Fresh pursuit” must be initiated from within the officer’s jurisdiction and “imp[ies] instant pursuit.” Sections 544.157.1, .3.
The court also explained the meaning of “fresh pursuit.” They stated:
…in order “to show ‘fresh pursuit’ in accordance with the statutory mandate of section 544.157, police pursuit must be initiated within the peace officers’ jurisdiction, must be immediate and without delay, consistent with reasonable police safety practices, and should be accompanied with a purpose to stop the vehicle. In addition, there must be proof that the individual being sought is attempting to escape to avoid arrest or, at least, the individual must know that he is being pursued, which “may more easily be shown if the police utilize sirens and/or emergency lights in pursuance of a suspect. [internal citations omitted][emphasis added]
In applying the rules and statutes listed above to the facts of Renfrow, the court found that the officer was outside of his jurisdiction, he did not activate his lights and sirens until he was outside the city, and he was not in “fresh pursuit” when he made the stop. Thus, the stop was unlawful and the DUI evidence that came as a result of the stop should have been suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” as there was not applicable exception under the facts of this case.
It is important to note that Renfrow is different from the question presented in that, in Renfrow, the officer did not initiate the stop in his own jurisdiction; however, in the question presented, we are told that the officer had his emergency equipment on prior to leaving the city.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed a similar set of facts in the United States v. Benitez.ii The relevant facts of Benitez are as follows:
On the morning of April 11, 2006, as St. Charles, Missouri, police officer Grant Jansen was parked on the eastbound shoulder of Interstate 70, he observed a Chevrolet Suburban, which was towing a Mercury Cougar, pass his vehicle at what appeared to be an excessive rate of speed. Officer Jansen gave chase and, after determining that the Suburban was traveling between 70 and 80 miles per hour in a 60 mile per hour zone, activated his emergency lights and conducted a traffic stop. Officer Jansen testified that he activated his emergency lights as he approached the bridge over the Missouri River at a point at which he was still in St. Charles County, and that there was insufficient road shoulder room remaining to pull Benitez’s vehicle over before entering the bridge, with the result that Benitez brought his vehicle to a stop shortly after he exited the east side of the bridge, which was at a point in St. Louis County.
Benitez contended that since his traffic stop took place outside of the officer’s jurisdiction, it could not form the basis for the later search of his vehicle. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed his contention as follows:
Officer Jansen activated his emergency lights as he approached the entrance to the bridge and at a point when he was still within the confines of St. Charles County and thus initiated the traffic stop therein. In any event, Jansen was authorized to continue in his efforts to apprehend Benitez under the doctrine of fresh pursuit, as provided by Missouri law. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 544.157; see also City of Ash Grove v. Christian, 949 S.W.2d 259 (Mo. App. 1997).
Thus, the court found that, since the officer initiated the stop with his emergency equipment in his jurisdiction, the fresh pursuit exception contained in Missouri statute applied.
Further, in support of upholding the legality of the stop, the Eighth Circuit cited the United States Supreme Court’s 2008 holding in Virginia v. Moore. In Moore, officers arrested a driver for driving with a suspended license. The arrest led to a search that revealed drugs. The issue was that, under state law, the officers should have released Moore so the arrest and subsequent search were arguably invalid due to state law. The United States Supreme Court held that:
“[W]hether or not a search is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,” we said, has never “depend[ed] on the law of the particular State in which the search occurs.” Id., at 43, 108 S. Ct. 1625, 100 L. Ed. 2d 30. While “[i]ndividual States may surely construe their own constitutions as imposing more stringent constraints on police conduct than does the Federal Constitution,” ibid., state law did not alter the content of the Fourth Amendment.
Thus, where a defendant argues that a stop violated the Fourth Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution), state law will not decide the issue. Rather, the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment will decide the issue. In Benitez, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said that, in spite of state law, the stop would be lawful based on the rule in Virginia v. Moore (note the defendant based his argument on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).
In light of Renfrow and Benitez, the answer to the question is “it depends” (the most hated answer among police officers). This is because the trial court is tasked with deciding if the “fresh pursuit” exception contained in Missouri law applies based on the specific facts heard by the court. According to Renfrow, fresh pursuit exists when the stop is…
…initiated within the peace officers’ jurisdiction, must be immediate and without delay, consistent with reasonable police safety practices, and should be accompanied with a purpose to stop the vehicle. In addition, there must be proof that the individual being sought is attempting to escape to avoid arrest or, at least, the individual must know that he is being pursued, which “may more easily be shown if the police utilize sirens and/or emergency lights in pursuance of a suspect..
If the fresh pursuit exception applies, then the stop should be legal. It is unknown, based on the facts of the question presented, if Virginia v. Moore would apply.