North Carolina allows security guards to wear official-looking uniforms and badges, carry firearms and patrol in cars equipped with flashing red and white lights. It’s not surprising that these so-called rental cops are often mistaken for Raleigh police officers or law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions.
Security guards aren’t hired by the state or city to make arrests, but what happens when an armed guard pulls someone over and then holds them roadside on suspicion of DWI? The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled in such a case.
The security guard was hired by a homeowners association in Wilmington. In April of last year, the guard was patrolling a townhouse community when he spotted a Honda in his rearview mirror. The security guard estimated that the car was going about 25 mph in a 15 mph zone, so he turned on his car’s flashing lights and made a traffic stop.
When speaking with the driver of the car, the guard said he noticed slurred speech and other indications that the driver was intoxicated. The guard then wrote the driver a homeowners association speeding ticket and called University of North Carolina police (the townhouse community is near the UNC campus).
A school police officer arrived after 10 minutes, but realized she didn’t have jurisdiction in the matter.
Another 35 minutes passed before a Wilmington police officer arrived. He apparently agreed that the driver appeared to be intoxicated and made a DWI arrest.
At trial, a judge ruled in favor of the defendant, saying the security guard’s “show of apparent lawful authority” meant he had to use the same reasonable suspicion standard applied to real police officers in traffic stops. Without training in judging car speed, how could the security guard have reasonable suspicion that a car spotted in a rearview mirror was speeding?
A three-judge appeals court overturned the court’s decision, however, saying that a security guard is “a nonstate actor…not subject to reasonable suspicion because the Fourth Amendment does not apply.”
There was no word in the report we read on whether or not further legal actions will be taken in this case.
While circumstances in this case are rare, it’s not so rare for there to be legitimate questions about how police officers conduct traffic stops that result in DWI/DUI arrests. An experienced criminal defense attorney examines cases for irregularities that might result in dismissal or a reduction in charges.
Source: TheNewspaper.com, “North Carolina Appeals Court Allows HOAs To Arrest For DUI,” Dec. 24, 2013