Citizen's Arrest Lawyers

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What Is a Citizen's Arrest?

A citizen's arrest occurs when an ordinary citizen stops and detains a criminal until the police arrive to make an official arrest. A citizen only can only make an "arrest" if the crime just occurred and if the crime is a felony or a breach of the peace.

The crime does not have to take place in front of the arresting citizen, but the citizen must have a reasonable belief the felony was committed and must have knowledge of who committed the crime.

What If the Crime Being Committed Isn't a Felony?

To legally perform a citizen's arrest, you generally must have a reasonable suspicion that the suspected criminal is engaged in a felony. So, you can't perform a citizen's arrest for a mere traffic offense, violation of an ordinance, or even a misdemeanor.

There is one exception: You can perform a citizen's arrest for a misdemeanor if the misdemeanor is a breach of the peace. In this situation, you must have witnessed the crime, the crime must have just occurred or there must be reason to believe that the crime will continue.

What Are the Limitations of Citizen's Arrest?

A citizen may only use deadly or excessive force when detaining a criminal if the arresting citizen or witnesses are in immediate physical danger by the suspect. Each state has different requirements for the use of deadly force, but in general deadly force can only be used if a fatal occurrence will happen without it. Citizens can use force to detain the suspect, but it can only be enough force to subdue the suspect until a law enforcement official arrests them.

Furthermore, law enforcement must agree with the citizen that a felony has occurred prior to the filing of any charges against the alleged criminal. If the suspect is not found guilty of committing a felony, the arresting citizen may be at risk of a lawsuit. Citizens arrests do not require the same constitutional requirements as a law enforcement arrest does, but citizens are more at risk to be held liable for criminal or civil charges.

Are There Any Consequences of Citizen's Arrest?

If a citizen makes an improper arrest, the suspect may have a right to bring a civil lawsuit against the citizen. Most state laws recognize the tort of false imprisonment, which allows someone to sue for their discomfort if they are unjustifiably held against their will.

The use of excessive force may lead to criminal or civil charges. Also, if the arresting citizen uses deadly force that leads to death, they may face manslaughter, murder charges, or a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of the deceased.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Citizen's Arrest Problem?

If you are accused of making an improper citizen's arrest, you should speak an experienced attorney to discuss avoiding liability. If you were the victim of an improper citizen's arrest, you should consult a personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal recourse. If you are charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer for help.

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Last Modified: 01-15-2015 04:41 PM PST

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