A citizen's arrest is an arrest by a civilian as opposed to a law enforcement officer. Although a citizen's arrest is legal in some states, it can still attract civil or criminal liability if not properly executed. Here are some of the precautions to take to avoid such liabilities:
Make Sure You Have the Right Person
Your first precaution is to confirm that you have the right person. Police officers who make an honest mistake and arrest the wrong person may be shielded by the law. However, you may not have the same protection as a private citizen. In real life, this means it's only advisable to make a citizen's arrest if you actually saw the suspect committing the crime.
Don't Use Force
Police officers frequently use force for those resisting arrest. However, you aren't a police officer and should desist from using force during the arrest. Using force can end up harming you, the suspect or other innocent bystanders. Law enforcement officers have more protection than you could ever have as a private citizen. In fact, some jurisdictions expressly prohibit the use of force during a citizen's arrest, except if the suspect presents an immediate physical danger, for example, in which case the use of force may be considered self-defense. It is in everybody's interest for you to avoid the use of force.
Let a Law Enforcement Officer Do It on Your Behalf
A citizen's arrest doesn't actually have to involve you physically detaining the suspect. Instead, if an officer of the law is nearby, you can direct them to arrest the offender. For example, if there are officers on patrol in the area, you can alert direct them to arrest the suspect. This absolves you from some liabilities, such as injury or property damage, that may arise when arresting the suspect. Technically, you would still be considered to have made a citizen's arrest.
Don't Detain the Suspect
For further protection, hand over the suspect to law enforcement officers as soon as possible. Detaining or confining the suspect can easily lead to false imprisonment charges. You may be tempted, for example, to detain the suspect in your store or basement as you interrogate them, but that isn't your prerogative and may only get you into trouble with the authorities.
You shouldn't go out of your way to make a citizen's arrest; there is no glory in it. However, you can go ahead and arrest a suspect if you think it is the right thing to do. Just remember to take the precautions above before proceeding. Get a criminal defense lawyer to defend your rights if a suspected you arrested is pressing charges against you. Contact a business, such as Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law, for more information.Share