The Dukes of Hazzard and Police Jurisdiction

Written by Gregory Monte.

If you grew up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, you might remember the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard.  I watched this show regularly, and always loved the scenes when Bo and Luke drove their car past the county line and the sheriff couldn’t touch them. 

In the real world, it doesn’t quite work that way.  I will refer to Pennsylvania in this blog post, but most states have similar laws when it comes to police jurisdiction.  Basically, it comes down to the fact that police are only allowed to act outside of their local areas in very specific circumstances.

Pennsylvania Title 42, § 8953(a).  Statewide municipal police jurisdiction defines the general rule:

“Any duly employed municipal police officer who is within this Commonwealth, but beyond the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction, shall have the power and authority to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth or otherwise perform the functions of that office as if enforcing those laws or performing those functions within the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction in the following cases …”

If you just look at this section of the general rule, it appears to give all police wide leeway to enforce laws anywhere in the state.  But the statute goes on to specify limited situations where enforcement authority is granted.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Com. v. Merchant, 560 A. 2d 795 – Pa: Supreme Court 1989 clarified the reasoning for restricting the activities of police officers:

“The trial court evidently believes that any time an officer, while on duty in his or her own jurisdiction, enters another jurisdiction he would be “on official business.” However, we cannot agree that an on-duty officer in a jurisdiction foreign to his own automatically obtains this status … The general purpose of the statute is to restrict the jurisdiction of police to their own municipalities, on the one hand, while allowing certain practical and policy exceptions to the general rule on the other hand.”

The important line in that quote is that the statute was meant “to restrict the jurisdiction of police to their own municipalities.”  Allowing operation outside of a jurisdiction is the exception to the rule, and so is restricted.

I bring this whole topic up because you may be able to contest a traffic ticket based on the particular jurisdiction laws in your state.  One of the taglines of my website Stop-Sign-Ticket.Com is “using the law to beat the law.”  This means finding every possible technicality to win in court. 

My son won his case based on the technicality that the local town never authorized the placement of the stop sign he was accused of violating.  If you are interested, you can read all about the details of his strategy in my free 23-page eBook How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania.  The strategy he used in PA is widely applicable to most states.

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