With some exceptions, police officers are generally only allowed to investigate crimes and make arrests within their jurisdictions. A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office employee isn’t normally allowed to drive into St. John’s County and pull people over who he suspects of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, off-duty police officers are not normally allowed to investigate cases or make arrests.
However, in a case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer ended his shift and was driving to his house, which was in a different county. Another vehicle was swerving and almost hit the officer forcing him to leave the roadway. The officer turned around and started following the suspect. The police officer observed him swerving all over the road. The police officer pulled the suspect over to investigate for DUI. He called a local police officer who took over the investigation and did ultimately arrest the suspect for DUI.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of DUI arguing that the initial police officer illegally pulled the defendant over since he was off-duty and out of his jurisdiction. The state argued that the police officer made a lawful citizen’s arrest. In other words, the state treated the case as if the police officer was a private citizen. Citizens are allowed to make arrests in Florida if they witness a person commit a felony crime or the crime of breach of the peace.
The court ruled that off-duty and/or out of jurisdiction police officers have the same right to make citizens’ arrests as any other citizen as long as they do not conduct the arrest under “color of office”, which means the police officer cannot use his position as a police officer to gain access or investigate when he is making a citizen’s arrest. Arguably, using the police car to pull a person over is not something a citizen could do so that critical part of the stop was under “color of office.” The court did not see it that way. The court held that the defendant driving erratically and almost causing an accident was a sufficient breach of the peace to warrant a citizen’s arrest by the off-duty officer. As a result, the traffic stop and subsequent DUI investigation and arrest were considered appropriate.