Posse Comitatus Act

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 7-3-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 7-3-11. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3449

Question of the Week: What is the Posse Comitatus Act?

A definitive report from the Congressional Research Service released in 2000 states,

“Americans have a tradition, born in England and developed in the early years of our nation that rebels against military involvement in civilian affairs. It finds its most tangible expression in the nineteenth century Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. 1385.”

Another Congressional Research Service report released in 2011 indicates that,

“The term “posse comitatus” means the “force of the county.” Its doctrine dates back to English common law, in which a county sheriff could raise a posse comitatus to repress a civil disturbance ….”

The Posse Comitatus Act was enacted in 1878 during post-Civil War reconstruction and amended in 1981. According to the CRS, the act reads,

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

The 2000 CRS report noted that,

“The language of the Act mentions only the Army and the Air Force.” However, “Express statutory exceptions include the legislation which allows the President to use military force to suppress insurrection, and sections which permit the Department of Defense to provide federal, state and local police with information and equipment.”

According to the Washington Office on Latin America, the 1981 amendment,

“made the military the permanent “single lead agency of the Federal Government for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Military Participation Chapter of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org.