Monday, November 5, 2007
Officer Who Sees Violation Outside City Cannot Issue Ticket—Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A police officer who witnesses a minor traffic infraction while outside his or her jurisdiction cannot issue a citation, the Orange Superior Court Appellate Division has ruled.
In a decision which was filed Sept. 12, and became final last week after being left standing by the Court of Appeal, the court reversed the conviction of Orange County Deputy Public Defender Donald E. Landis Jr. on a charge of failure to stop for a red light.
In a per curiam decision, the court said that the citation was invalid because the Costa Mesa officer who gave Landis the ticket had no authority to do so in unincorporated Santa Ana Heights.
The officer, Kha Bao, testified that he was driving a marked vehicle and returning to Costa Mesa following a court appearance in Newport Beach when he observed Landis’ Dodge 4x4 go through the light, which had turned red when Landis was about five feet behind the limit line. The officer said he was about 15 feet behind Landis as the truck approached Campus Drive, traveling westbound on Bristol Street.
After Landis went through the light, the officer said, he activates his lights; Landis, he testified, pulled over before the light turned green and the officer went through the intersection.
Retired Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey, sitting on assignment at the Newport Beach courthouse, denied Landis’ motion to dismiss. He stated that in traffic trials, the court “consistently takes the position that there is no legitimate jurisdictional issue where, as in this case, the court credits the peace officer’s testimony that the violation was observed to have been committed in his or her presence.”
Landis testified that the signal turned from green to yellow when he was about 10 feet from the intersection, and that he slowed down at first but did not believe he could stop in time, so that the accelerated and drove through the intersection.
Dickey found Landis guilty and imposed the minimum fine.
But the appellate panel—Presiding Judge Charles Margines and Judges Mary F. Schulte and Robert J. Moss—said that while an officer who observes a violation within his jurisdiction may pursue a suspect across the city boundary, there is no law allowing him to ticket a motorist who did not commit a violation within the locality the officer is sworn to serve.
The judges rejected the argument that the ticket was valid under Penal Code Sec. 830.1(a)(3), which provides that an officer’s authority extends statewide “[a]s to any public offense committed...in the peace officer’s presence, and with respect to which there is immediate danger...of the escape of the perpetrator of the offense.”
The court explained:
“While we conclude that a literal interpretation of the word ‘escape’ could suggest that an officer’s authority is sufficiently broad to encompass the citation at issue herein, we find such an interpretation would allow the statutory exception to swallow the rule that a peace officer’s authority is limited to the territorial jurisdiction he or she serves.”
The better interpretation, the court said, is that the statute applies only “where the officer has particularized cause to believe that the motorist is likely to take action to avoid being detained,” the court held.
In this case, the judges said, there was no such cause because Landis “committed a simple Vehicle Code violation, pulled over immediately when Officer Bao activated his overhead lights, and made no attempt to escape.”
The officer could, the judges said, have notified the Sheriff’s Department of the violation and had a deputy come and issue the citation. While this would be “highly cumbersome, not the best use of police resources,” the court said, it would have been legal.
The case is People v. Landis, AP-14864.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company