Understanding How to Make a Citizen's Arrest

Citizens of the United States are legally permitted to stop a crime of any level if they have become witnesses to one unexpectedly. Not only are they empowered by the law, but citizens are also allowed to use reasonable force in order to detain and hold the person who was committing the crime until a police officer arrives. However, this legal ability will have different conditions depending on your home state. Nonetheless, it is important for U.S. citizens to understand the steps of how to make a citizen's arrest safely and effectively.

Have You Just Witnessed a Crime?

One of the most important steps in making a citizen's arrest is determining whether you have seen a real crime take place. This is because you will need to provide the police with an explanation that will include a "probable cause" which is the reason you needed to make the arrest. According to the law, you are legally allowed to make the arrest once you have seen the perpetrator commit the crime. If you have found yourself in a situation where the crime has not yet taken place, then you need to contact the police or local authorities immediately. However, contacting the police about a crime or potential crime that you have witnessed should happen in all cases. Thus, you should contact the police and make a citizen's arrest if you see someone committing any of the following crimes:

  • Assault of all forms, including rape, murder, assault causing bodily harm
  • Theft of $500 USD or more; it can be in the form of property as well
  • Indecent behavior in public
  • Hit and run
  • Arson or armed robbery

Can You Safely Make the Arrest?

Before you make the citizen's arrest, you will need to evaluate your level of safety in the situation that is about to unfold. More often than not, the perpetrator will refuse to cooperate, and it can lead to violent behavior towards you. Thus, you need to be prepared for the situation to potentially escalate beyond your control and know how to react in the case that it happens. Moreover, you should only attempt to make a citizen's arrest if you feel are physically capable to constrain or detain the individual until the police arrive. However, you can also ask for assistance in this type of situation. Although it may be a difficult situation that requires you to react quickly, it is important to take the time to judge whether you require help or not.

Will You Need to Use Force to Detain the Perpetrator?

At this stage of the situation, you have likely understood that there will be consequences to detaining someone and making a citizen's arrest. As long as you are absolutely sure this individual has committed a crime that you witnessed, then you also have the right to use reasonable force to ensure that the perpetrator cooperates with you until the police arrive. However, you will need to make sure that you have tried every other method of communication before using force to detain a perpetrator.

What Will You Tell the Authorities?

The statement you provide to the authorities will need to be clear and concise. It must also include the specific reason (probable cause) that you felt absolutely sure a citizen's arrest was needed. Moreover, you will need to explain to the police what happened and everything that you saw unfold at the scene of the crime. Thus, you will need to provide full details of the criminal act that you witnessed, as well as the steps you took to make the citizen's arrest.

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