Civil RightsGeneralPersonal Injury Law

In Virginia, if an officer arrested me outside his jurisdiction, can I file suit against the officer?

In Jordan v. Shands, 255 Va. 492, 497 (Va. 1998), the court stated “We have defined false imprisonment as “the direct restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another without adequate legal justification.” W.T. Grant Co. v. Owens, 149 Va. 906, 921, 141 S.E. 860, 865 (1928). We have also observed that “false imprisonment is a wrong akin to the wrongs of assault and battery, and consists in imposing by force or threats an unlawful restraint upon a man’s freedom of locomotion.” Id. (quoting Gillingham v. Ohio River Ry. Co., 35 W. Va. 588, 14 S.E. 243, 245 (W.Va. 1891)).”

While the facts may give rise to a cause of action for false imprisonment, often the issue of damages dictates whether or not the case should be filed.   If it is unlikely that either a judge or a jury would award more damages than the cost of litigation, including attorney’s fees, then it makes little sense to bring such a suit.

An officer that stops or arrests an individual outside of his jurisdiction will be deemed to be a citizen attempting or making a “citizen’s arrest” at common law.  Under the common law, a “citizen’s arrest” is “defined as an arrest of a private person by another private person on grounds that . . . a public offense was committed in the arrester’s presence.” Black’s Law Dictionary 104 (7th ed. 1999).

In Hudson v. Commonwealth[1], 266 Va. 371, 379 (Va. 2003), the Virginia Supreme Court stated, “At common law, a private citizen may arrest another for a breach of the peace committed in his presence. See Gustke, 516 S.E.2d at 291-92; see also Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 156-57, 69 L. Ed. 543, 45 S. Ct. 280 (1925) (” ‘In cases of misdemeanor, a peace officer like a private person has at common law no power of arresting without a warrant except when a breach of the peace has been committed in his presence . . . .’ ” (quoting 9 Halsbury’s Laws of England 612)); accord W. Page Keeton, ed., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 26 (5th ed. 1984) (“Broadly speaking, either an officer or a private citizen may arrest without a warrant to prevent a felony or a breach of the peace which is being committed . . . in his presence.”)

The Court described “breach of the peace at common law and as recognized in Virginia as follows:

In Byrd v. Commonwealth, 158 Va. 897, 164 S.E. 400 (1932), we described the general parameters of acts constituting a breach of the peace at common law and as recognized in Virginia.

“By ‘peace’ as used in the law in this connection, is meant the tranquility enjoyed by the citizens of a municipality or community where good order reigns among its members. It is the natural right of all persons in political society, and any intentional violation of that right is ‘a breach of the peace.’ It is the offense of disturbing the public peace, or a violation of public order or public decorum. Actual personal violence is not an essential element in the offense.”

Id., 158 Va. at 902-03, 164 S.E. at 402 (quoting Davis v. Burgess, 54 Mich. 514, 20 N.W. 540, 542 (Mich. 1884)). See also 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 1541 n.1 (William Draper Lewis ed., 1898).(“Offenses against the public peace include all acts affecting the public tranquility, such as assaults and batteries, riots, routs and unlawful assemblies, forcible entry and detainer, etc.” (quoting City of Corvallis v. Carlile, 10 Or. 139, 142 (1882)).

The jurisdictional limits of a law enforcement officer is described by Virginia Code § 19.2-76:

§ 19.2-76.  Execution and return of warrant, capias or summons; arrest outside county or city where charge is to be tried

A law-enforcement officer may execute within his jurisdiction a warrant, capias or summons issued anywhere in the Commonwealth. A warrant or capias shall be executed by the arrest of the accused, and a summons shall be executed by delivering a copy to the accused personally.

If the accused is a corporation, partnership, unincorporated association or legal entity other than an individual, a summons may be executed by service on the entity in the same manner as provided in Title 8.01 for service of process on that entity in a civil proceeding. However, if the summons is served on the entity by delivery to a registered agent or to any other agent who is not an officer, director, managing agent or employee of the entity, such agent shall not be personally subject to penalty for failure to appear as provided in § 19.2-128, nor shall the agent be subject to punishment for contempt for failure to appear under his summons as provided in § 19.2-129.

The law-enforcement officer executing a warrant or capias shall endorse the date of execution thereon and make return thereof to a judicial officer. The law-enforcement officer executing a summons shall endorse the date of execution thereon and make return thereof to the court to which the summons is returnable.

Whenever a person is arrested upon a warrant or capias in a county or city other than that in which the charge is to be tried, the law-enforcement officer making the arrest shall either (i) bring the accused forthwith before a judicial officer in the locality where the arrest was made or where the charge is to be tried or (ii) commit the accused to the custody of an officer from the county or city where the charge is to be tried who shall bring the accused forthwith before a judicial officer in the county or city in which the charge is to be tried. The judicial officer before whom the accused is brought shall immediately conduct a bail hearing and either admit the accused to bail or commit him to jail for transfer forthwith to the county or city where the charge is to be tried.

Similarly, § 19.2-250 is relevant to the inquiry.

§ 19.2-250.  How far jurisdiction of corporate authorities extends

A. Notwithstanding any other provision of this article and except as provided in subsection B hereof, the jurisdiction of the corporate authorities of each town or city, in criminal cases involving offenses against the Commonwealth, shall extend within the Commonwealth one mile beyond the corporate limits of such town or city; except that such jurisdiction of the corporate authorities of towns situated in counties having a density of population in excess of 300 inhabitants per square mile, or in counties adjacent to cities having a population of 170,000 or more, shall extend for 300 yards beyond the corporate limits of such town or, in the case of the criminal jurisdiction of an adjacent county, for 300 yards within such town.

B. Notwithstanding any other provision of this article, the jurisdiction of the authorities of Chesterfield County and Henrico County, in criminal cases involving offenses against the Commonwealth, shall extend one mile beyond the limits of such county into the City of Richmond.



[1] The court stated in Hudson that whether or not intoxicated, dangerous conduct on a public highway driving so as to imperil others is a breach of the peace.