Limits of Authority

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This directive is for internal use only and does not enlarge an employee’s civil liability in any way. The directive should not be construed as creating a higher duty of care, in an evidentiary sense, with respect to third party civil claims against employees. Violations of this directive, if proven, can only form the basis of a complaint by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for non-judicial administrative action in accordance with the rules and laws governing employee discipline.
APPROVED BY: Sheriff Ken Christesen EFFECTIVE DATE: 2/12/2017


The purpose of this policy is to define the authority vested in San Juan County Sheriff’s Office deputies and animal control officers.


It is the policy of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office that personnel understand the scope of their individual authority as granted through New Mexico State Statute and San Juan County Ordinance.


The following definitions shall apply for the purpose of this policy:

  • Animal Control Officer – Non-certified personnel designated by the Sheriff and authorized by the board of county commissioners to enforce county ordinances dealing with domestic animals within the unincorporated areas of San Juan County.

  • Deputy – Refers to a certified and commissioned law enforcement officer with the authority to discharge all of the duties belonging to the Office of the Sheriff including the authority to make full custody arrests.

  • Full Custody Arrest – Arrest authority, with or without a warrant, which includes the legal authority to physically remove a person from their location and take that person to a place of confinement or judicial authority.

  • Indian Country – All land within the limits of any Indian reservation including rights-of-way running through the reservation, all dependent Indian communities, and all Indian allotments.



Deputies are authorized under NMSA 4-41-9 to discharge all the duties that belong to the Office of Sheriff in San Juan County, New Mexico. These duties include: investigating violations of San Juan County ordinances and New Mexico State law; apprehending offenders and causing them to appear in court to answer charges; keeping the peace; and executing lawful civil processes. In the exercise of their authority, deputies will follow the guidelines set forth in policy, statute, county ordinance, and state and federal constitutions.

An exception to this authority is on Indian country. Deputies are authorized to discharge their duties with regard to incidents involving only non-Indian persons on Indian country in San Juan County. If tribal or federal police request assistance with regards to Indian persons on Indian country, deputies are authorized to keep the peace while acting as agents of the agency with jurisdiction.

Pursuant to NMSA 4-41-12, deputies are allowed to enter all other counties in New Mexico for the purpose of arresting persons charged with a crime. When authorized by a governor’s warrant, waiver of extradition, or tribal court order, deputies are authorized to receive custody of persons in other states or from tribal authorities and return them to answer charges in San Juan County, New Mexico.


As outlined in NMSA 4-37-3(B), animal control officers authorized by the board of county commissioners can enforce the animal control ordinances of San Juan County. In the exercise of their authority, animal control officers will follow the guidelines set forth in policy, statute, county ordinance, and state and federal constitutions. Animal control officers have the authority to issue citations or court summonses, seize evidence and animals under lawful conditions, legally destroy animals, and other duties necessary to enforce San Juan County Animal Control Ordinances related to domestic animals within the unincorporated areas of San Juan County, New Mexico, excluding Indian country. They do not have the authority to make full custody arrests.


A powerful tool in the exercise of police authority is the use of discretion. Discretion can be effective in resolving problems and conflicts when used properly.

When making enforcement decisions, personnel should always consider the need to balance community concerns with the philosophy and mission of the Sheriff’s Office. Oftentimes, the best solution to a problem may not be in the form of an arrest or charge. The Sheriff’s Office mission has always been to solve community problems in the spirit of the law and not necessarily in enforcing the letter of the law for all circumstances.

All personnel are authorized and expected to use discretion in many areas including: to arrest or release on minor violations; to cite a traffic violator or release with a warning; how to settle minor disputes; and how to solve problems in their districts.

When faced with discretionary situations that require assistance, personnel will confer with supervisors. In the case of an animal control officer, this may mean conferring with a certified deputy or a supervisor. Bias or favoritism is not an acceptable component of discretion.


  1. 18 U.S. Code § 1151 – Indian Country Defined
  2. Deputy sheriffs; powers and duties [4-41-9 NMSA 1978]
  3. Entering other counties; powers [4-41-12 NMSA 1978]
  4. Manner and place of execution [31-4-8 NMSA 1978]
  5. Enforcing county ordinances; jurisdiction [4-37-3 NMSA 1978]
  6. San Juan County Animal Control Policy 10 Section 2.1