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When Police Can Cross Town Lines: The Fresh Pursuit Rule

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There’s a common misconception that police officers from one town have absolutely no power in another town. The truth, though, is far more nuanced in Maine. To make matters worse and more complicated, different municipalities can provide more or less authorization for their police to take action in neighboring localities.

Thankfully, a recent Maine Supreme Court case provides an excellent example of how complicated this issue can be. Here, we’ll go over what happened in the case, as well as the first layer of nuance in the issue of whether a police officer can enforce a law outside of their own jurisdiction. In a future blog post, we’ll delve into the problem that arises with different towns giving different rules for their police force.

What Happened in State v. Turner

A Winslow police officer saw someone committing a traffic violation in Winslow, and put on his lights and sirens to initiate a traffic stop. However, the driver of the car didn’t stop until passing over the border into neighboring Waterville. While in the middle of this traffic stop, the Winslow officer was distracted by a loud noise: Another car, further into the town of Waterville, was driving on the curb before disappearing down Front Street. The Winslow cop left the first driver and went into Waterville, looking for the car that had been on the curb. He found it, damaged, in a parking lot. The driver seemed to be drunk, so the Winslow officer took his license and registration before calling Waterville police.

The driver, Ryan Turner, refused to take a blood alcohol content (BAC) test and was convicted for violating Maine’s implied consent statute. Turner appealed, claiming that all of the evidence that the Winslow officer had obtained should’ve been thrown out under the exclusionary rule because he was outside of his jurisdiction.

General Rule: Police Cannot Leave Their Jurisdiction

In Maine, 30-A M.R.S. § 2671 is the statute that sets the limit of the jurisdiction of a police officer. Importantly, it says “no police officer has any authority in criminal or traffic infraction matters beyond the limits of the municipality in which the officer is appointed.”

However, this rule is promptly followed by a list of exceptions.

The “Fresh Pursuit” Rule

One of these exceptions is the fresh pursuit rule, which allows police to “arrest a person who travels beyond the limits of the [officer’s municipality] when in fresh pursuit of that person.”

In State v. Turner, this exception is the one that allowed the Winslow officer to venture into Waterville for the initial traffic stop. Because the traffic infraction happened in Winslow and the Winslow officer was in pursuit of that driver when they crossed the town line into Waterville, the officer’s jurisdiction expanded into Waterville, for the course of the traffic stop that eventually happened there.

Maine OUI-Defense and Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

The fresh pursuit rule is a fairly straightforward exception to the limited jurisdiction of police officers. In our next blog post, we’ll go over the Maine Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Winslow cop to continue into Waterville, detain someone suspected of operating under the influence (OUI), and provide evidence for a subsequent OUI charge.

William T. Bly is a criminal defense and OUI-defense attorney in Maine. If you’re facing criminal charges, contact his law office online or call him at (207) 571-8146.


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