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. Citizens arrests allows a private individual to have the power to make an arrest without a warrant by detaining criminals themselves then directing a police officer to formally detain and arrest the criminal.

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. Citizens arrests are subject to lower constitutional requirements since it is not a state action or an arrest that is done by law enforcement, but there are certain rules that a private individual must follow.

What Are the Requirements to Make a Citizens Arrest?

To make a citizens arrest, there are some elements that must be met to be legally allowed to make the citizens arrest:

  • Witness the crime take place
  • Have probable cause or reasonable belief that the person committed a crime
  • Determine whether the crime is a felony
  • Decide whether its safe to make the arrest
  • Fully understand the circumstances and the responsibility in making the arrest

If after making the citizens arrest, fully understand that if it turns out that you did not have probable cause or reasonable grounds to make the arrest, you could get sued for false imprisonment, assault and battery. You may also face criminal charges which is why it is highly recommended to fully understand the risks and requirements for making the citizens arrest.

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 citizen may also face criminal charges for unlawful restraint if the arrest is improper.

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 Issue?

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.