posse comitatus


posse comitatus
/pos"ee kom'i tah"teuhs, -tay"-/
1. the body of persons that a peace officer of a county is empowered to call upon for assistance in preserving the peace, making arrests, and serving writs.
2. a body of persons so called into service.
[1620-30; < ML: posse of the county]

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▪ legal institution
Latin“force of the county”

      ancient English institution consisting of the shire's force of able-bodied private citizens summoned to assist in maintaining public order. Originally raised and commanded by the sheriff, the posse comitatus became a purely civil instrument as the office of sheriff later lost its military functions. From time to time, legislation gave authority to other peace officers and magistrates to call upon the power of the county.

      In early times, attendance at the posse comitatus was enforced by the penalty of culvertage, or turntail, which involved the forfeiture of property and perpetual servitude. Although the primary object of the posse comitatus was to maintain peace and pursue felons under the command of the sheriff, it also was required to obey a summons for the military defense of the country.

      In the United States, the posse comitatus was perhaps most important on the Western frontier (there known as a “posse”), and it has been preserved as an institution in many states. Sheriffs and other peace officers have the authority to summon the power of the county, and in some counties it is a crime to refuse assistance. In general, members of a posse comitatus are permitted to use force if necessary to achieve legitimate ends, but state laws differ as to the legal liability of one who in good faith aids an officer who is himself acting beyond his authority.

      Another use of the posse comitatus in the United States was the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which was passed at the end of Reconstruction (1865–77) in order to prevent the use of the U.S. military for the enforcement of domestic law in the occupied South. The same act was invoked in the 1980s to prevent military forces from being deployed against certain domestic threats, such as drug trafficking and terrorism.

      In the second half of the 20th century, the idea of the posse comitatus was influential in the United States among political extremists who argued that no legitimate authority exists above the level of the county. They maintained that federal and even state governments are unlawful and can therefore be lawfully resisted. Inspired by the posse comitatus, they created their own “common law” courts, which they sometimes used to harass political enemies. Many of these activists were affiliated with armed militia groups and preached racist and anti-Semitic ideas.

John Philip Jenkins
 

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Posse Comitatus — Act Le Posse Comitatus Act est un principe politique selon lequel l Armée n a pas le droit d intervenir dans les affaires du gouvernement civil, dans celles de la Justice ou dans une procédure judiciaire. Sommaire 1 Histoire 2 Texte 3 Étymologie …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Posse comitatus — Act Le Posse Comitatus Act est un principe politique selon lequel l Armée n a pas le droit d intervenir dans les affaires du gouvernement civil, dans celles de la Justice ou dans une procédure judiciaire. Sommaire 1 Histoire 2 Texte 3 Étymologie …   Wikipédia en Français

  • posse comitatus — the power of the county . The sheriff was able to call together able bodied men to keep the peace. The institution transplanted to the USA, thence into ordinary parlance: round up a posse . Collins dictionary of law. W. J. Stewart. 2001. posse… …   Law dictionary

  • Posse comitatus — may refer to: Posse comitatus (common law), the authority of a law officer to conscript any able bodied males to assist him Posse Comitatus (organization), a loosely organized far right social movement that opposes the United States federal… …   Wikipedia

  • Posse comitatus — Pos se com i*ta tus [L. posse to be able, to have power + LL. comitatus a county, from comes, comitis, a count. See {County}, and {Power}.] [1913 Webster] 1. (Law) The power of the county, or the citizens who may be summoned by the sheriff to… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • posse comitatus — noun a) The able bodied men over 15 in a given county who can be summoned by the sheriff to help keep the peace, or arrest a felon; also a group of men so gathered. With him retired his ‘posse comitatus,’ / The attorney last …   Wiktionary

  • posse comitatus — The body of men summoned by a sheriff or other peace officer to assist him in making an arrest. Better known in modern usage as a posse. See posse …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • posse comitatus —    (PAH see koh mee TAH tus) [Latin: posse of the county] A group of men called together by a sheriff or peace officer to assist in making arrests, stopping a riot, etc …   Dictionary of foreign words and phrases

  • posse comitatus — noun a temporary police force • Syn: ↑posse • Hypernyms: ↑police, ↑police force, ↑constabulary, ↑law • Member Meronyms: ↑posseman …   Useful english dictionary

  • Posse comitatus — Lit. force of the county . The early English institution consisting of a shire s able bodied citizens, who would be summoned to help a *sheriff or other officer of the law in maintaining public order, or chasing felons and such like. Cf. County …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases


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