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Questioning Police Arrests & Out-of-Area Jurisdiction Agreements

With the advent of ultra-modern communications technology, ubiquitous surveillance and video cameras, police are facing more serious, valid questions about how they conduct themselves, than ever before. Overall, increased public awareness, in the hands of experienced criminal trial attorneys, can help make sure that these advances are chances to protect people’s basic civil liberties.

It’s never a good idea to just assume that police have conducted themselves properly in your case. Even though some people may advise you that what you did was against the law, there may be other reasons that will result in an acquittal, or at least a reassessment of what happened. Talking with an experienced criminal defense attorney can peel away the layers that may hide improper police actions: in the following case, challenging the way a city and county coordinated an arrest.

In the following case, there was, to start it all, an apparently anonymous call about a domestic disturbance. Ultimately, the case didn’t really deal with those charges at all. Instead, important assumptions about whether or not the police were properly dispatched to a residence in Robeson County were raised and tested. A criminal defense attorney made sure that proper procedures were (eventually) fully evaluated, and whether those procedures justified an arrest. Jurisdictional issues represent important questions of how police departments in any North Carolina jurisdictions agree to operate with each other, and what limits on their jurisdiction may exist. Specifically, you should always talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney when there were unanswered questions about how police authority has been exercised by overlapping police departments.

II.  Out of Bounds?

It was mid-October, and beginning to get dark. In Red Springs, a City police dispatcher got a call that alleged Tessie L. had been stabbed by her husband, Johnny L. The home was located about 3.5 miles outside of City limits. The dispatcher at that time notified Red Springs police to “stand by.” The dispatcher, knowing the call was for out of city aid, next called the Robeson County sheriff’s department.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys recognize that police departments often, routinely cooperate across city and county borders. That in itself wasn’t a problem. What is often a problem is that there are written rules for such actions.

There was never any substantiation about who would made the initial call, or whether it was a correct call that “there’s been a stabbing.” And in turn, the sheriff’s department passed along the City call to a county deputy: Red Springs police confirmed to the criminal defense attorney that they had “heard the dispatch” on the scanner. For whatever reason, the Red Springs City Police said that they “knew” there was only one deputy available in the area. Accordingly, the city police captain (Parker) sent a city police officer to help the deputy: apparently on his own initiative. Coincidentally, the sheriff’s deputy had also called the Red Springs Police Department for help, because the deputy had been investigating another case, and was transporting a prisoner to county lock up.

III.   The paper it’s printed on…

An experienced criminal defense attorney knows that police agreements have to be in writing in order to be acceptable, enforceable, and understandable. Frequently called ‘mutual aid agreements,’ or memorandums of understanding, these MAA’s are often reduced to writing, so that there are no surprises, or misunderstandings between departments as they attempt to share resources in particular instances.

It’s worth noting that at no time did Johnny L.  apparently question what was happening in terms of jurisdiction. There also didn’t seem to be much doubt that he knew police were on his property. This makes the point that a criminal defense attorney can deal with procedural issues that are potentially quite distinct from the substance, or substantive, issues of arrest. The challenge to the arrest came about because of the skill of the criminal defense attorney in probing the process afterwards.

What was known was that the police arrived, representing both the county and city forces. Johnny L. yelled at the police to get “off my property.” At some point, the county officer followed Johnny into a dark room. Later, the county officer said he thought he “heard a shotgun shell” being chambered. Both officers testified later that Johnny’s wife had a torn and bleeding lip, but no evidence of a stabbing (the supposed precipitating incident). Re-encountering each other out on the front porch, Johnny waved his shotgun in the air, and tried to get everyone to leave the property. Interestingly, the criminal defense attorney found out that a dispatcher from the City Police Department had for some reason accompanied the county deputy. That city dispatcher called the city police and asked for “backup.”

IV.  You Can’t Fight City Hall

It’s an old expression: “you can’t fight City Hall.” Well, actually you can… and probably should, with help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. This turned out to be a very complicated fight against city hall, which was an instance where a criminal defense attorney thoroughly protected an accused person’s rights in regard to police procedures. In fact, from the day of the arrest, it took five years to finally get a decision from the court of appeals as to whether not the arrest was justified. Because these cases tend to be very fact driven, the outcome is never certain: facts in your particular case will decide that outcome. At the same time, being sure that police procedures are followed is an extra path to guarantee that your rights have not been violated leading up to, during, or after an arrest.

The criminal defense attorney introduced into evidence that only the head enforcement officers of the county and city forces are “empowered to request assistance.” That apparently didn’t happen here. Also, the criminal defense attorney proved that the request could be made on “an emergency basis,” which would have removed the need for a written request. Overall, Johnny L.’s criminal defense attorney argued strongly that there was not sufficient foundation or evidence to prove the MAA as introduced was authentic or the best evidence. The basis for this argument would be that the jury was prejudiced by not seeing the actual details of the MAA; the jury only saw that the agreement existed. This would mean, if the criminal defense attorney was correct, that the juries had been unable to decide whether or not the Red Springs City Police had violated the agreement, and had thus been acting beyond their authority on the property.

Conclusions:   

A criminal defense attorney knows that civil rights are a broad spectrum of issues. In this case, it was fair for the criminal defense attorney to question how the call was made to city police, and whether they went beyond their proper jurisdiction. In this particular case, the appeals court decided that there should’ve been cross-examination of the content of the agreement, at trial, if the criminal defense attorney was later going to complain that those details had not been discussed. Absent this specific objection at the trial, by the criminal defense attorney in this case, the Court of Appeals ruled that there was no harm to Johnny L.’s case, this time. It was a close call.

If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt or harmed by questionable police conduct—search and seizures or questionable arrests, or have questions involving related charges or your legal rights or at hearings, please contact us.  You will speak with an expert criminal defense attorney who can best answer your questions about how your criminal cases may relate to each other.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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