3/8/2018Georgia: County Lines Are Not A Safe Haven From Traffic Stops
Georgia Court of Appeals says police may stop motorists outside of their jurisdiction as long as they are continuously pursued.
Contrary to what is sometimes seen on television, it is not always possible to escape a traffic stop by driving over the county line. The Georgia Court of Appeals made this point last month in a ruling that overturned a lower court judge's overly limited interpretation of police jurisdiction.
Alysia Charles was behind the wheel when she drove past a highway speed trap run by a Fayette County Sheriff's deputy. She was not speeding, but the deputy noticed he could write a ticket for having a defective license plate light. The trap had been set up less than a mile from the Clayton County line, so by the time the squad car began rolling and caught up to Charles, they were just over the border.
"We were going from a dead stop to get up there to 55," the deputy testified. "I'm not going to floor it to catch up with a car over a tag light. I'm not going to do that to catch up to them. In light traffic, I [easily] catch up to them."
The deputy decided to let Charles drive another third of a mile before lighting her up and ordering her to pull over, observing that the ground was more level farther up the road. The deputy explained that it is easier to perform field sobriety tests on level roads, and in this case such a test turned out to be necessary.
From the smell of marijuana and alcohol, the deputy quickly surmised that Charles was driving under the influence (DUI). Charles fought back. Under Georgia law, police officers generally need to operate within their jurisdiction unless they need to chase a suspect into another jurisdiction, but the deputy in this case could hardly be in "hot pursuit" of a burnt out tag light. Although the trial judge agreed with Charles, the three-judge appellate panel sided with the deputy.
"We assert jurisdiction to avoid any error at trial based on references to the illegality of the stop," Chief Judge Sara L. Doyle wrote for the panel.
The appellate panel pointed out that "hot pursuit" does not mean a high speed chase with sirens blazing. All that matters is the continuity of the pursuit.
"Under these facts, the decision to look for safe, level ground to execute the traffic stop did not interrupt the immediacy or continuity of the pursuit, nor did it materially add to the duration of the pursuit -- the deputies stopped Charles less than a mile after starting from a standstill on a highway with a 55 MPH speed limit," Judge Doyle concluded. "Therefore, the trial court erred by concluding that the stop was not authorized under the 'hot pursuit' doctrine."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.