Making A Citizen's Arrest

making a citizens arrest

Under certain circumstances and situations, private individuals have the power to make an arrest without a warrant. These types of arrests are known as "citizen's arrests" and occur when private citizens either detain criminals themselves or direct police officers to detain a criminal. Though legal, citizens are largely discouraged from making these types of arrests and to leave law enforcement to the professionals; therefore, laws in almost all states afford less protection to private citizens who make mistakes during the arrest process than they do to police officers. Citizen's arrests are governed by strict rules, and failure to abide by these rules can result in civil and criminal liability for the arresting citizen.

When you can make an arrest

Most states authorize a private citizen to arrest someone that they reasonably suspect of committing a felony, or when a suspect commits a misdemeanor that involves a breach of the peace in the presence of the citizen. In the case of a felony, even if the felony did not occur in the presence of the individual making the arrest, the citizen may make an arrest as long as a felony was actually committed, the individual making the arrest knew of the crime, and had a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was the perpetrator of the crime.

A citizen's arrest does not have the constitutional requirements that attach to an arrest by law enforcement officers. If, however, a private citizen acts at the request of law enforcement, any arrest they carry out must meet the same constitutional standards as an arrest by the law enforcement officers themselves, such as an individual's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and the warrant requirement. If a private citizen acts on their own initiative in making the arrest, those constitutional restrictions do not apply.

Reasonable Force and Tort Liability

Despite the fact that citizen's arrests do not carry the same constitutional requirements as a typical arrest, individuals must only use the amount of force that is reasonable and necessary to make the arrest. What constitutes a reasonable and necessary amount of force depends on the facts surrounding each arrest. The use of excessive force can open up the arresting individual to civil and criminal liability, especially when deadly force is used to apprehend a suspect. Some states prohibit the use of deadly force except when the citizen making the arrest or someone else is threatened with serious bodily injury or immediate use of deadly physical force. In those cases, deadly force may be used for defense and protection.

Other states allow the use of deadly force during a citizen's arrest to stop a fleeing suspect, as long as the person making the arrest uses reasonable methods to make the arrest. Any use of deadly force during a citizen's arrest that does not comply with the applicable state law can result in criminal charges against the arresting citizen, as well as a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of the suspect.

You Can, But Should You?

The best way to avoid legal problems that may arise as a result of a citizen's arrest is to avoid making citizen's arrests altogether. If you think you are witnessing a crime, law enforcement never recommends that you make a citizen's arrest, but instead, contact your local police so they can make the arrest. Private citizens who make citizen's arrests not only expose themselves to grave danger, but they also may be subject to civil liability and criminal prosecution if the arrest goes wrong. The legal ramifications are heightened when private citizens use deadly force to make arrests.

If you have made a citizen's arrest, have been arrested via citizen's arrest, or want to learn more about your rights and responsibilities, find an experienced criminal law lawyer and/or personal injury lawyer by quickly posting a short summary of your legal needs on, and let the perfect attorney come to you!

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Posted - 02/15/2018