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Court Discusses Jurisdiction of Police Departments

The Facts:

A deputy sheriff of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Department and another officer were parked on the side of the road checking for traffic violations when they observed plaintiff-appellee’s vehicle with an expired brake tag. A New York Criminal Lawyer said after stopping the plaintiff-appellee, the deputy sheriff asked for his driver’s license, which was also expired. Thereafter, the deputy sheriff radioed the Criminal Sheriff’s office to verify the license expiration and then placed the plaintiff-appellee under arrest. The plaintiff-appellee was then transported to Central Lock Up and booked without incident and in accordance with standard arrest procedures for brake-tag and license violations.

Plaintiff-appellee invoked section 1983 and state tort law alleging that the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office was without legal authority to investigate criminal activity or make the subject stop and arrest.

Subsequently, the district court found the arrest unlawful, and entered judgment as per the stipulation.

The subject officers appealed the said decision.

The Issue:

The primordial issue is the allocation of law enforcement authority between the Police Department of the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff.

The Ruling:

The subject section 1983 provides that a claim under it requires that the conduct complained of must first have been committed by a person acting under color of state law and that this conduct must have deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.

Here, the court finds that the claimed deprivation that the deputy sheriff engaged in a systematic check of vehicles, stopped, searched and arrested the defendant, without legal authority to do so, is bereft of merit. The subject activities can be more accurately described as criminal investigation or police work which is exclusively the province of the Police Department. The officers acted in accord with official policy or custom. The Criminal Sheriff’s Office has the authority to conduct criminal investigations and make arrests. For this reason, the court need not resolve the constitutional question whether an arrest resulting from an unauthorized investigation is an unreasonable seizure under the fourth amendment.

The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff occupies a unique position under Louisiana law. Generally, the sheriff has authority over the entire parish, although law enforcement authority may be shared with smaller municipal police departments. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said the territorial limits of Orleans Parish, however, are co-extensive with that of the City of New Orleans.

The dicta in several cases and several opinions of the Louisiana Attorney General were considered by the court as pertinent and instructive.

In 1990, the Louisiana Attorney General issued two opinions addressing the role and duty of a police officer versus a deputy sheriff: that Louisiana law seems to presume that everyone knows who and what is a police officer; and that only the Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act defines a police officer per se, that is, a police officer means every officer authorized to direct or regulate traffic and to make arrests for violations of traffic regulations. Under this definition, municipal, parish and state law enforcement officers are police officers. The opinion went on to hold that sheriffs and deputy sheriffs in Louisiana are the functional equivalent of police officers in custom if not by the nomenclature of the positive law.

Clearly, in terms of police power, police officers and sheriffs and their deputies do have similar functions and powers, but in different jurisdictions. The difference in title for their respective roles signifies this differentiation in jurisdiction. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said as the warden of the parish jail and the chief executive officer of the district court, civil and criminal, the total official function of a sheriff is more diverse and complex than the strictly criminal function of a municipal law enforcement officer. The court finds no evidence that because the functions of the sheriff and police departments are different, their powers are mutually exclusive.

Thus, the plaintiff-appellee’s section 1983 claim of wrongful or unlawful arrest must fail; the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff has the authority to conduct criminal investigations and make arrests within Orleans Parish. The state law claim must also fail; there can be no valid state law claim for false arrest since the deputy sheriff had the legal authority to make the arrest.

Accordingly, the judgment is reversed and the claims against the sheriff and the deputy sheriff are dismissed.

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