So let’s say a police officer stops a drunken driver, realizes the driver is a friend and then lets the driver go.
The officer could be headed for a lawsuit if his friend drives away and injures or kills someone, said Troy Slaughter, a lawyer who has practiced in Wilmington for 17 years.
But while citizens can sue law enforcement in some cases, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the chief of police to enforce immigration law isn’t likely to succeed, at least not in North Carolina.
Ken Hatcher, an assistant New Hanover County public defender who used to specialize in immigration law, said police chiefs have broad discretion for allocating resources.
But the bigger problem, Hatcher said, is that enforcing immigration law is a responsibility delegated to the federal government.
Just as a sheriff’s deputy from one county can’t arrest someone in a different county, local police don’t have the legal authority to enforce federal laws, Hatcher said. On the sheriff’s deputy example, he said, some exceptions exist for chases that cross county lines.
The new law in Arizona, which has yet to take effect, would require police in that state to enforce federal immigration laws.
And, Hatcher said, that law includes a provision allowing citizens to sue local police agencies that choose not to enforce federal immigration laws.
While the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution supporting the Arizona law and calling for a similar one in North Carolina, this state doesn’t currently have a law authorizing local police to enforce federal law, Hatcher said.
Date posted: August 2, 2010
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