On the evening of February 5, 1988, Natick, Massachusetts police officer William Geissler observed a vehicle drive through a red light at a high rate of speed. Driving a marked police cruiser, Geissler quickly caught up to the vehicle which pulled over soon after when he signaled for it to do so. Upon approching the vehicle, Geissler detected a strong odor of alcohol and therefore asked the driver, Paul LeBlanc, to submit to several field sobriety tests. LeBlanc subsequently failed a pair of field sobriety tests and was placed under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating beverage. He was then taken to Natick Police Headquarters where a breathalyzer test showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.15, legally too intoxicated to drive and almost double the 0.08 legal limit. When the case was brought to court the following year, Commonwealth Vs. Paul LeBlanc (407 Mass 70), all charges against LeBlanc were thrown out. The reason, by the time Natick Police caught up to LeBlanc and stopped him for speeding through the red light in their town, they had crossed the town line into Framingham. Currently Massachusetts state law only gives local police officers the authority to make warrantless arrests within their own jurisdiction.In the case of Paul LeBlanc the court believed that Natick Police had exceeded their legal authority by pulling the vehicle over after it had crossed into Framingham. Therefore any evidence from the traffic stop and charges stemming from it are not valid, even though Framingham Police officers had assisted in the arrest and evidence shows that LeBlanc was in fact driving under the influence.
What happened in the case of Paul LeBlanc is something that happens all to often in cities and towns to this day, allowing perpetrators to avoid justice by crossing a town border before they can be caught by police. Some cities and towns have worked together to have their officers sworn in as “special police officers” in neighboring communities so they may have the power of arrest should the need arise. On a state wide scale though it may not be practical to leave the responsibility up to each local community to extend this power to every officer in every abutting towns police department. Several bills currently working their way through the Massachusetts House of Representatives seek to change this law and expand the power of local police so that they may make arrests outside their jurisdiction. These bills, H03144 filed by Representative John P. Fresolo of Worcester, H02911 filed by Representative Nick Collins of Boston and H00637 filed by Representative William N. Brownsberger of Belmont, all provide for a solution to this problem. It is impossible to predict when the need may arise for an officer to make an arrest outside their jurisdiction, and some officers may never need to. It is clear that any bill such as these that gives officers this power will help to prevent crime along town borders and improve public safety across the commonwealth.
-Robert P. Reardon Jr
Legislative Intern; Office of State Representative William N. Brownsberger
- Commonwealth Vs. Paul LeBlanc: http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/407/407mass70.html
- Representative William N. Brownsberger’s bill: http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/House/H00637
- Representative Nick Collins’ bill: http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/House/H02911
- Representative John P. Fresolo ‘s bill: http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/House/H03144