In most states, a private citizen has the right to arrest someone who has committed a felony in his presence, and may even arrest someone he reasonably believes to have committed a felony, so long as the felony was in fact committed.
First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.
Today’s topic is citizen’s arrest, a topic of interest to many listeners...
Robin from California wrote:
Recently, some teenage hooligans defaced our letter box with spray paint. I often fantasize about catching them in the act and dishing out my brand of justice on the spot. But in reality I know that if I ever did see someone committing a crime, my first thoughts would be about any legal consequences of my actions. Suppose I did catch a teenager spray painting my letter box. Could I grab him and physically restrain him until police arrived? What if he resisted and tried to leave? If I'm strong enough I might be able to overcome that and still restrain him until the authorities came, but would I get in trouble if he were a bit bruised, scraped, or cut, say, in our struggle? I can imagine an angry father coming at me for tussling with his kid.
Many of us share this unpleasant experience of neighborhood hooligans. The short answer is that there are situations where a private citizen may arrest someone. But, as Robin fears, if you do not carry out the citizen’s arrest properly, you might be liable for false imprisonment, battery, assault, or other damages you cause in carrying out the arrest. The quick and dirty tip is to avoid making citizen’s arrests unless absolutely necessary. When possible, record as much information as you can and contact local police.