In a hypothetical case, an NJ driver is observed operating their vehicle erratically near the border of Pennsylvania or New York. A NJ State Police Officer follows the vehicle, which turns onto the bridge and proceeds across the state line. The Trooper follows, pulling the vehicle over in the neighboring state and ultimately arresting the driver for an NJ DWI. Is this legal? Does the NJ municipal court have jurisdiction? The answer is not as clear as it may seem.
Because a municipal court has limited jurisdiction, it is obligated to assess whether or not it has the power to act in a particular matter before it; the authority of the court to adjudicate disputes must be found in legislative grants of jurisdiction. State v. Garcia, 297 N.J. Super. 108, (Ch. Div. 1996).
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-16(a), the basic grant of municipal court territorial jurisdiction, provides that the court has jurisdiction over cases arising within the territory of the municipality in which it sits; it defines that territory, however, as also including property or premises located partly in and partly outside the municipality. Garcia, supra, 297 N.J. Super. at 108.
The power to arrest and prosecute for offenses committed “on the bridges” has been set forth in pertinent legislation adopted by New Jersey and Pennsylvania. N.J.S.A. 32:4-6; Pa. Stat Ann. tit. 36 § 3504.1. Though there are obscurities in the statutory language, the legislative purpose to afford concurrent jurisdiction to New Jersey and Pennsylvania over all offenses committed anywhere on the “bridges” is clear. Garcia, supra, 297 N.J. Super. at 108.
In Garcia, where the defendant was involved in an accident on a bridge over the Delaware River that connected New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the initiation of prosecution of defendant in New Jersey for careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident vested the municipal court “nearest the site of the offenses with jurisdiction over the matter.” Ibid.
Calhoun Street Bridge is owned and operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. N.J.S.A. 32:4-6 provides, in part, (1) that the Delaware River Port Authority’s police force may “make arrests for crimes, misdemeanors, and the offenses of any character committed upon said bridges” and (2) that upon an arrest, the offender may be taken to a proper judicial officer of Pennsylvania or New Jersey “without respect to the portion of the bridge” where the offense may have been committed or the offender may have been arrested. See also State v. Holden, 46 N.J. 361, 363 (1966).
N.J.S.A. 53:2-1 sets forth the powers and jurisdiction of the New Jersey State Police. It provides:
The members of the State Police shall be subject to the call of the Governor. They shall be peace officers of the State, shall primarily be employed in furnishing adequate police protection to the inhabitants of rural sections, shall give first aid to the injured and succor the helpless, and shall have in general the same powers and authority as are conferred by law upon police officers and constables.
They shall have power to prevent crime, to pursue and apprehend offenders and to obtain legal evidence necessary to insure the conviction of such offenders in the courts. They shall have power to execute any lawful warrant or order of arrest issued against any person, and to make arrests without warrant for violations of the law committed in their presence, and for felonies committed the same as are or may be authorized by law for other peace officers.
They may co-operate with any other State department, or any State or local authority in detecting crime, apprehending criminals and preserving law and order; but the State Police shall not be used as a posse in any municipality except upon order of the Governor when requested by the governing body of such municipality; provided, however, that the Superintendent of State Police, or the person in charge thereof, shall, upon request made to him by the superintendent of elections of any county of this State, assign for use on any election day officers and troopers, not to exceed fifteen in number in any one county, to aid such superintendents of elections in the enforcement of the election laws of this State.
They may act as inspectors of motor vehicles and as wardens in the protection of the forests, and the fish and game of the State. With respect to enforcement of the provisions of the “New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control Act,” Title 33 of the Revised Statutes, they shall have all the powers conferred upon “officers” pursuant to that title. They shall have the authority to investigate any offenses or violations occurring on the waters of this State, as defined in section 1 of P.L. 1986, c. 150 (C. 53:1-11.10), and to stop and board a vessel in the waters of the State to determine whether the vessel complies with State and federal boating safety laws and shall have the power to order a vessel that does not comply with these laws to return immediately to shore. They shall have the authority, in accordance with applicable State and federal laws, rules and regulations, to take appropriate action as authorized by the United States Coast Guard to assist the United States Coast Guard in the enforcement of any safety and security zone established by the United States Coast Guard Captain of the Port for the Port of New York and New Jersey or the Port of Philadelphia. They shall have the authority to perform all of the duties of members of the State Capitol Police Force as defined in section 2 of P.L. 1977, c. 135 (C. 52:17B-9.2).
Nowhere in the State Police’s jurisdictional grant is there any authority whatsoever for a member of that force to make an arrest inside the State of Pennsylvania. In that, there does not appear to be any statutory authority of any kind for an officer of the New Jersey State Police to follow and subsequently arrest a defendant outside the State of New Jersey, whether in Pennsylvania or any other state. Simply put, State Police Officers of the State of New Jersey become mere private citizens after crossing into Pennsylvania. An NJ officer would therefore be without probable cause to arrest a defendant in the State of Pennsylvania.
While N.J.S.A. 32:4-6 provides authority to members of the Delaware River Port Authority to make such arrest, the statute is completely inapplicable to the case at bar. The statute does not mention the Delaware Joint River Toll Bridge Commission, of which the Calhoun Street Bridge is owned and operated by. Moreover the statute gives absolutely no authority to members of the New Jersey State Police to make such arrests.
In order for our hypothetical Court to hear the instant matter, two elements must be satisfied: 1) The arresting officer must have been authorized to make an arrest inside the State of Pennsylvania; and 2) The court must have jurisdiction. Neither element is satisfied in our case. This court should therefore dismiss the summons against defendant.