Challenging a Massachusetts OUI arrest by College Campus Police

Massachusetts OUI arrests by College Campus police may raise legal defenses that an
experienced Massachusetts OUI attorney could raise in court. Campus police – or public safety officers – are limited by Massachusetts state law from many law enforcement duties of regular city and state police officers, and arrest made outside of these limitations could be defeated in court. The distinction between ordinary officers and campus police officers is critical because, as discussed in the case of Commonwealth v. Smeaton , it can make a difference in the outcome of the case.

College or university police officers are appointed as special State police officers under a Massachusetts statute (G.L. c. 22C, § 63) that grants them the same authority to make arrests as regular police officers for any criminal offense within their jurisdiction. Even though students on campus have fewer rights to privacy because of the college’s interest in keeping the community safe, campus police officers also have less authority to make traffic stops or to question individuals on campus.

One of the first questions to determine if an OUI stop or arrest is legal is whether the campus officer acted within the parameters of his or her jurisdiction. In Commonwealth v. Smeaton, for example, a campus police officer at Smith College observed defendant Smeaton operate his vehicle erratically along a public street that intersects with the campus. The campus officer stopped Smeaton just outside the center of the campus, and later town police officers arrived and placed Smeaton under arrest for several violations – including operating under the influence of alcohol. Smeaton argued that the arrest was not legal because it was outside of the parameters of the college campus. The Supreme Judicial Court held that although the road was a public way that only intersected the campus, it was still within the campus officer’s jurisdiction under the statute.

The Massachusetts statute reads that a campus officer has the full police authority to make arrests for criminal offenses on lands or buildings owned, used, or occupied by the college. The Court in Commonwealth v. Smeaton held that while the road was not privately owned by the college, it was still within the campus officer’s jurisdiction because it is “sufficiently used” under the statute as the only route to access certain facilities and many of the college’s private drives and pathways. These are all areas which campus officers have to exercise special vigilance to ensure that peace and order is maintained among the student body and the college visitors. So in the case of Smeaton, he was legally stopped by the campus officer.

But in an earlier case, the Appeals Court held that a Fitchburg State College police officer was not authorized to pull over a driver because of the driver’s failure to yield at an intersection on campus, and so had no basis for the subsequent arrest. In Commonwealth v. Mullen, Mullen allegedly pulled out of a side road onto an intersection, causing the college police officer to swerve in his cruiser to avoid a collision. The officer pulled over Mullen for failing to yield, and then discovered that Mullen was intoxicated and operating under the influence. Mullen was arrested and charged with a failure to yield (a civil offense), and an OUI.

The Appeals Court distinguished a campus police officer’s authority from a regular officer’s authority by stating that the Massachusetts law does not grant any authority to campus police officers to stop drivers for civil violations. Section 63 only grants campus officers the authority to make arrests for criminal offenses. Because the campus officer stopped Mullen for failing to yield – a civil infraction – without having any reasonable suspicion that Mullen had committed a criminal offense, the campus officer acted outside his authority. Thus the Court in Commonwealth v. Mullen limited campus police authority strictly to making arrests for criminal offenses.

As explained above, campus police officers are appointed as special officers under a particular state statute that limits the scope of their authority and jurisdiction. Massachusetts OUI attorneys representing individuals arrested by officers appointed under this statute should carefully review the basis and context of the arrest for any statutory violations. If the officer was acting outside his statutory authority, the courts may suppress all evidence which could lead to the dismissal of the case.

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