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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

City and county lines don't stop police

rural walking bridge on gravel trail

Occasionally a potential client will ask me whether a law enforcement officer “out of their jurisdiction” can make an arrest. In the State of Iowa, if a law enforcement officer observes a crime anywhere in the State of Iowa, he or she may lawfully make an arrest. In some instances, they must be law enforcement academy trained-- like OWI (DUI) cases.

Lore in one of the courthouses where I practice has it that a lawyer tried a case in which he was without a defense of any kind. Knowing the facts of the case, he asked the officer one final question: whether he was “out of his jurisdiction” when he made the arrest, or so the story goes, and the officer answered in the affirmative. The jury, not understanding the law, acquitted the defendant thinking that was an absolute bar to prosecution. Of course, the reason for the acquittal was unknown. But the conventional wisdom was that the jury engaged in "jury nullification" (acquitting for reasons other than the facts or law dictated by the trial judge). Because 'jurisdiction' was not a defense, most observers, I am told, believe that the jury simply took matters into its own hands. That was before my time.

Another colleague informed me that he used to prosecute minor speeding ticket violations in a suburb outside a college town in Iowa. A bridge that separated the college town and the suburb was the line of demarcation between the two competing law enforcement agencies-- but it didn't preclude either one from writing a ticket on either side of the bridge. Once, he recalled, two officers argued over who was going to issue a ticket. To settle the dispute, they decided no one would do and both directed the driver to leave. But interagency politics is not the same thing as the law. And it doesn't have to result in an acquittal or release.

An Iowa Supreme Court case directly on point noted, “a municipal police officer has authority to arrest anywhere in the state. This authority, however, arises only if the officer has reasonable cause to believe that the person has committed such [an] offense.” State v. Snider, 522 N.W.2d 815, 817 (Iowa 1994).

For purposes of OWI (DUI), a law enforcement officer outside his or her jurisdiction, including the territorial limits of a municipality for city police officers, still must have “satisfactorily, completed approved course relating to motor vehicle operators under the influence of alcoholic beverages at the Iowa law enforcement academy or a law enforcement training program.” Snider, 522 N.W.2d 815, 817 (Iowa 1994).

But geography and being " out of jurisdiction" will not nullify the arrest. If you or a loved one has been arrested in the State of Iowa by a law enforcement officer, inside or outside his or her jurisdiction, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC, for an initial consultation. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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