Superior Court: Campus Police Jurisdiction Stops at Road’s Edge

Filed under: Criminal Law, DUI by Contributor @ November 13, 2014

In Commonwealth v. Boyles, 2014 WL 5408422, the Superior Court, using statutory interpretation, limited the jurisdictional authority of the campus police of Pennsylvania’s state-related universities to conduct traffic stops on state roads.

The court considered the validity of a trial court order suppressing evidence collected from a DUI and speeding arrest near Slippery Rock University.  Officer Frank Davis, a Slippery Rock University Police Officer, set up a “speed trap” for vehicles traveling along Kiester Road, a state road running through the university campus.  In fact, the police officer’s vehicle was parked immediately adjacent to the campus police department.  However, the officer was not acting in coordination with the local municipal police force.   While lying in wait, Officer Davis tracked and clocked a black sedan traveling over the posted speed limit.  He proceeded to pull the car over.  Noticing alcohol in the backseat, the officer then administered field sobriety tests.  The driver consented to a chemical breath test.  The test revealed a BAC level of .110%.

Relying on Commonwealth v. Durso, 86 A.3d 865 (Pa.Super.2013), the trial court suppressed the evidence while ruling that campus law enforcement have police powers only on university-owned property. The Commonwealth, on appeal, attempted to distinguish that case as based on 71 P.S. § 646, a statute within the Administrative Code regulating campus police.  The Commonwealth contended that the Durso decision ignored the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A §§ 8951-8954, a statute dealing specifically with police authority, which allows a municipal officer to  remain in “hot pursuit” of an alleged traffic law violator where the violation occurred within the municipal officer’s primary jurisdiction.

The main question the Superior Court had to consider was whether a public road that runs through a state-owned university campus is part of the primary jurisdiction of university campus police?

The Court came to the same conclusion as the trial court, but on different grounds.  Instead of the Durso decision, the Court considered Section 20-2019-A, part of the Public School Code that the Durso court did not address.  That provision limits the powers and primary jurisdiction of campus police to “acts committed on the grounds of the institution.”  Finding no support for the Commonwealth’s assertion that Kiester Road was part of the grounds of the institution, a term of art that under state law does not encompass public roads passing through the campus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s suppression decision.  Because the driver was at all times on Kiester Road, the Court could not countenance that the officer was ever acting in his “primary jurisdiction” as necessary for the “hot pursuit”  jurisdictional question to apply.

This case implicates important questions about what authority a non-traditional police officer has to make arrests and otherwise undertake law enforcement duties.  Despite the driver-defendant being caught dead to rights on a DUI, in this case the defendant will go free because the officer blundered.  To talk to a Fairlie & Lippy attorney about your case, contact us today.







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