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Jurisdiction: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?

What is it? Basically jurisdiction is the extent of the power of a court or law enforcement agency. That extent includes both geographical scope and the scope of issues over which the court or agency has power.

Why does that matter?

Let’s say that I live in Dallas County, Texas. That’s adjacent to Tarrant County, Texas. Let’s say that Tarrant County has an ordinance prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving, but Dallas County does not. I’m driving through Tarrant County while talking on my cell phone, so a deputy from the Tarrant County sheriff’s department stops me and writes me a citation for violating the ordinance. He can do that; he’s within his jurisdiction.

But what if I’m driving in Dallas County while talking on my cell phone, and a Tarrant County deputy stops me and writes me a citation for violating the ordinance? Now that’s a problem. He’s not within his geographical jurisdiction, and neither am I. My conduct does not violate an ordinance in Dallas County.

What if I’m back in Tarrant County and driving while talking on my cell phone. The Tarrant County deputy stops me and writes me a citation for being tuned in to a contemporary Christian music station. He’s within his geographical jurisdiction, but now he is acting outside the scope of issues over which the Tarrant County sheriff’s department has power. They do not have the power to regulate what radio stations I listen to.

Silly Examples?

Yes, but they illustrate the point, and the point can be extremely serious, fundamental, even. A federal marshal has the authority to arrest me for possession of illegal drugs, but not for proclaiming to be a Christian, or a Muslim, or an atheist, and not for looking suspicious because I have too many body piercings or tattoos, or because I look like I have a certain ethnic background.

In the United States we are a democracy which has declared itself free and then granted the government certain rights to control us. When the government attempts to control us beyond the extent to which we have granted control, it acts outside its jurisdiction, which the law does not allow.

About the Author

Faiz Adnan is a very experienced Syariah Lawyer in Singapore and a founder of Faiz Law Firm Pte Ltd which has over 60 people of lawyer team. In addition, he was one of the speaker of many Islamic legal conference held in United State of America and United Kingdom.