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  • Federal LEO Arrest Powers

    Someone asked me a question that I could not answer the other day regarding jurisdiction for federal LEO's. While I am aware that federal LEO's have territorial jurisdiction throughout the United States and its territories, what are the subject matter limitations for federal LEO's? For example, can agents with ATF, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, FBI, ICE, etc. make arrests for crimes such as drug possession, weapons violations,etc?

    This question came up when discussing U.S. Marshals serving warrants and discovering narcotics or evidence of other criminal activity and for what offenses federal LEO's could make on-view arrests.

    Could anybody shed some light on this for me?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Thin Blue Line
    Someone asked me a question that I could not answer the other day regarding jurisdiction for federal LEO's. While I am aware that federal LEO's have territorial jurisdiction throughout the United States and its territories, what are the subject matter limitations for federal LEO's? For example, can agents with ATF, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, FBI, ICE, etc. make arrests for crimes such as drug possession, weapons violations,etc?

    This question came up when discussing U.S. Marshals serving warrants and discovering narcotics or evidence of other criminal activity and for what offenses federal LEO's could make on-view arrests.

    Could anybody shed some light on this for me?
    Normally they won't arrest for such offenses unless they're federal drug possession/weapons violations. That's not to say that they cannot detain the perp until local/state law enforcement arrives. If they want us to hit them with local charges, then that's what we'll do. Similar to drug cases I handle at the airport. If it's significant enough for DEA intervention, then they will tell us to hold off on state charges and detain the person until they pass it by the US Attorney's office. If the US Attorney doesn't want it, then we'll book em on the local stuff.

    Bottom line the answer is yes, they can detain for any type of charge. Whether they want the suspect booked on local or federal charges will be up to them. If it's local then our agency will handle it and list the agent as prosecutor and/or a witness for the case.
    I'm 10-8 like a shark in a sea of crime..

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    • #3
      Sgt. Scott is right. Plus, if no local officer is available (not uncommon on the border, for example), we could make a "citizens arrest under color of law", which I have done. I displayed my badge and announced their arrest, but then "unarrested" them when we met up with the locals.
      Keep in mind, the drug possesion statues under the U.S. Code do NOT have a lower amount limit - I could have arrested someone Federally for possesion of a single joint - even a single seed!
      And crimes committed in my presence (violations of state laws) allowed me to arrest. In some states, I even had peace officer status, allowed to enforce state laws.
      "A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the existing of better men than himself."
      John Stuart Mill

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Thin Blue Line
        Someone asked me a question that I could not answer the other day regarding jurisdiction for federal LEO's. While I am aware that federal LEO's have territorial jurisdiction throughout the United States and its territories, what are the subject matter limitations for federal LEO's? For example, can agents with ATF, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, FBI, ICE, etc. make arrests for crimes such as drug possession, weapons violations,etc?
        The short answer is yes, most federal agents can arrest for misdemeanors and felonies commited in or out of their presence anywhere in the United States and it's territories. However, these arrests are based on violation of federal law, not state law. Some agencies are also designated powers to enforce by title of the US Code. For example Title 21 (Cont. Substances), Title 19 (Customs), Title 8 (Immigration) ect. In general I believe everyone is designated to enforce Title 18 which is the general criminal code. Most weapons and drug violations are covered under US Criminal Code, as well as a myriad of other crimes.

        However, there are prosecution guidelines set by the different US Attorney Offices. Just because you could arrest someone, it doesn't mean that they would be prosecuted. This is where a call to the locals comes in handy. Some states are willing to prosecute a lot of cases where the Fed won't. Also, specialized agencies dedicate themselves to a certain type of crime. Regardless of whether the law allows you to make a certain arrest, your agency management might not want you dealing with it. This goes for the "anywhere in the United Staes" part too. If you are assigned to the San Diego office of XYZ agency, your supervisor wouldn't be too happy if you go arresting people while on vacation in Florida. But, if during the course of your duties you stumble upon a crime usually handled by another agency, then it's simple. You make the arrest and hand it off to that other agency for investigation and prosecution. Clear as mud?
        "You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

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        • #5
          Indiana conveys state level police powers to federal officers.

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          • #6
            Hey guys thanks for the help. Its ashame that subject matter doesnt extend to motor vehicle law. Can u imagine the look on some aggressive drivers' face if tehy got pulled over by the U.S. Marshals?

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            • #7
              Texas gives certain feds (FBI, USSS, ICE, ATFE, USPIS, Civilian NCIS, IRS-CI, USMS, DSS) arrest powers for felonies as "Special Investigators". Secret Service Agents have additional misdemeanor arrest authority when they are investigating threats against protected persons. Other Feds have the authority to arrest for state offenses when on federal property, and other circumstances that would support their ability to perform their duties.

              As SgtScott Said they can always detain a suspect until a state or local officer arrives. The same also works for State and Local officers handling federal crimes. We can detain and contact the feds and see if they want to investigate.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Thin Blue Line
                Hey guys thanks for the help. Its ashame that subject matter doesnt extend to motor vehicle law. Can u imagine the look on some aggressive drivers' face if tehy got pulled over by the U.S. Marshals?
                I think some states do.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Thin Blue Line
                  Hey guys thanks for the help. Its ashame that subject matter doesnt extend to motor vehicle law. Can u imagine the look on some aggressive drivers' face if tehy got pulled over by the U.S. Marshals?
                  On a related topic, most don't realize state and local cops can enforce federal laws.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ten Six
                    On a related topic, most don't realize state and local cops can enforce federal laws.
                    Although that may be true for the most part, my previous agency had a specific general order that forbid me from enforcing immigration law. In fact, help me out on this guys, isn't that true for most state and local agencies unless you have had the training from ICE and are authorized by your agency to enforce immigration law?

                    My other thought on this is usually, but not always, there is a state statute that will be broken as well as federal law for us arrest on something that will later be charged federally. Lets say you arrest someone for breaking into a U.S. Postal facility. I am pretty sure that there is some federal law being broken. But as a practical matter you will hook the guy up and jail him on local charges. If a federal agency wants to mess with it then a detainer can be placed on the inmate at the jail.

                    Even on some of the stuff that you think ATF might want. Say a felon with a short barreled shotgun. My experience has often been that they will say to just charge it locally. I think that the federal agencies have enough stuff to do that they can pretty much pick and choose what they want to pursue. But then so do we (city/county/state) to a certain extent. Think about it. You stop somebody for whatever and find a small amount on him are you always charging it? No way.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Jim1648
                      Although that may be true for the most part, my previous agency had a specific general order that forbid me from enforcing immigration law. In fact, help me out on this guys, isn't that true for most state and local agencies unless you have had the training from ICE and are authorized by your agency to enforce immigration law?

                      My other thought on this is usually, but not always, there is a state statute that will be broken as well as federal law for us arrest on something that will later be charged federally. Lets say you arrest someone for breaking into a U.S. Postal facility. I am pretty sure that there is some federal law being broken. But as a practical matter you will hook the guy up and jail him on local charges. If a federal agency wants to mess with it then a detainer can be placed on the inmate at the jail.

                      Even on some of the stuff that you think ATF might want. Say a felon with a short barreled shotgun. My experience has often been that they will say to just charge it locally. I think that the federal agencies have enough stuff to do that they can pretty much pick and choose what they want to pursue. But then so do we (city/county/state) to a certain extent. Think about it. You stop somebody for whatever and find a small amount on him are you always charging it? No way.
                      When it comes to immigration law my agency requries us to contact ICE if we have arrested someone we feel may be in the country illegaly. Other than that we dont have the time to play "La Migra".

                      As far as the other fed stuff goes we have officers who have been assigned to federal task forces who have been deputized by the Marshals Service. If my dept wants to file FED charges on someone and the primary federal agency will not take the case we will have our task force officers file the case with the US Attorney.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jim1648
                        Although that may be true for the most part, my previous agency had a specific general order that forbid me from enforcing immigration law. In fact, help me out on this guys, isn't that true for most state and local agencies unless you have had the training from ICE and are authorized by your agency to enforce immigration law?
                        Immigration law is extremely convoluted. Federal code also states the powers that an "immigration officer" has to enforce it and who is by statute considered an "immigration officer". You have to be trained and cross-designated as an "immigration officer" to be able to enforce it. It also has many sections that are administrative infractions and not criminal, you have to know what's what. That's not counting the hundreds of types of immigration status a person might hold. But, besides all that, I just think some local agencies don't want to deal with it due to community relations. A lot of people feel that illegal aliens will be more prone to calling the police and reporting crimes if they are not in fear of being arrested due to their immigration status.
                        "You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

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                        • #13
                          As a side note. I'm loving how every post containing a laundry list of federal agencies and agents doesn't name the Border Patrol. I know we don't have a cool 3 letter acronym and a suit and tie wouldn't survive one shift out in the brush, but last I checked my badge still says U.S. on it. Granted, there are no tv shows about us on prime time but "we don't need no stinkin" shows. [/endrant]
                          "You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            For my agency we can write both federal and state. State if we don't have a federal statue to cover it, like underage drinking. Now for when we arrest, we book under the marshal's, not the county. Now for jurisdiction every federal agency has it's own rules. Most of the feds can go anyware but they must be called in first, if a local county finds a drug house they are not just going to let the feds come in and take control ($$)
                            Now if we are serving a warrant we also have the plain view doc, like city, county and state.
                            Being a LEO is more then a job, it's a life style! if you don't like it FLIP A BURGER!

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                            • #15
                              I only make arrest on federal charges, and rarely otherwise. But there has been more the a number of occasions where I'll place the suspect in handcuffs and await for locals to make the arrest. As far as actually pulling someone over for traffic infractions, I actually did once. The only reason I did was because the person had been drinking and was a hazard both to himself and everyone else on the road, and I felt obligated to stop this person. I then called in the state police, they made the arrest and then I had to come back and testify. Fortunaly for me the suspect actually stopped! I have never been in a pursuit in a vehicle (have been back when i was active duty in the coast guard on a boat), and honestly didn't care to be in one at all!

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