Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous and often an extreme form of justice. If there are no rules or regulations to govern you, then you can act without thinking and allow your emotions to control you. But in times of crisis and if there are no law enforcement agents around to stop a crime in progress, what can one do? Say a lady has been mugged and the thief is getting away. Or a possible suspect of a crime is trying his/her best to flee the scene. Should you stand by quietly and allow the criminal to escape, without a word of protest? Rather than let a criminal escape freely, one can, at this point, perform a citizen’s arrest.
What is a Citizen’s Arrest?
A citizen’s arrest is a law allowing a civilian or an average citizen, with no background in law enforcement, to act as a proxy police officer and stop a criminal. This law does not make the civilian, a honoree officer but rather gives him/her the right to apprehend, stop and transport the criminal to a law enforcement agency or at least confine him/her, until the cops arrive. This form of arrest is carried out without an arrest warrant. The suspect is expected to be handed over to the formal authorities as soon as possible. The word “citizen” in the term, is used to indicate an ordinary person making the arrest, as opposed to an officer of the law but in some countries, it is also used to signify that a citizen of that particular location should make the arrest and not temporary visitors or immigrants with no citizenship.
Below are some criteria that should be fulfilled to make such an arrest:
- An individual has the right to perform a citizen’s arrest, if a crime or felony is being performed in his/hers’ presence.
- If a crime has not been performed in his/her presence but the arresting individual has a probable cause to believe in the guilt of an individual, he/she may perform the arrest.
- If there is a breach of peace or disturbance in the community atmosphere, in the presence of an individual, then in order to stop it, he/she is authorized to arrest the individuals causing the disturbance.
- A citizen’s arrest can also be viewed as an individual coming to the aid of a law enforcement officer in the time of need and making the arrest, if the officer is unable to do so at that time. For example, if a criminal is fleeing and the officer is injured and cannot apprehend him and there is no backup around.
- Sometimes, the various acts or actions that can qualify for a person, being arrested by citizens around him are specified by law. This includes public drunkenness, public lewdness or exposure, driving drunk, looting and stealing.
- The suspect will put up a struggle and a certain amount of reasonable and within limits force is allowed to subdue him/her. The force is expected to be able to restrain or confine the suspect. It should not be harmful by inducing wounds or life-threatening injuries. Use of weapons should be avoided.
How to Perform a Citizen’s Arrest?
The following are some steps to performing such an arrest:
- Understand what is the crime being followed and who exactly is the perpetrator.
- Unless you have conclusive proof and other witnesses to the crime around you, do not perform any arrest.
- Notify the authorities for their aid, prior to stopping the criminal. Before you make any arrests, call your local police force and state the crime and location clearly for them.
- Be realistic, you are not a police officer. The criminal will not recognize any authoritative steps from you and you could get seriously injured.
- Try to enlist another witnesses’ aid in catching the criminal.
- If the criminal is armed, do not perform a citizen’s arrest. Do not try to stop the criminal with firearms of your own, this will turn into a shoot-out.
- There may be innocent people and civilians around you. Think of them before going on the offensive with a criminal, you may end up endangering other lives.
- Say “Stop” or “Hold” in a commanding tone of voice, to stop the criminal.
- Inform them in brief of their crime and state that they cannot leave until the police arrive.
- You have no right to conduct a search or question the criminal in any way.
- The criminal may try to resist. You can use some force to restrain him/her but remember you could get seriously hurt.
- Do not render the suspect unconscious. The more violent you are with the suspect, the more you render yourself open to criminal prosecution for unlawful force.
- Do not try to impersonate the police by flashing false IDs or in any other manner.
- When the police arrive, immediately identify yourself and state what was the crime and hand over the suspect to the authorities. State clearly what you saw, who you are and what exactly the suspect was doing.
A citizen’s arrest is a good practice to follow in times of crisis. But be within your limits and do not assume you are a super-hero, capable of handling a criminal, especially more than one. That being said, vigilante justice is always frightening in terms of going overboard with violence, either for the criminal or the person performing the arrest. Different states of America have different laws when it comes to performing a citizen’s arrest, please make sure you are in accordance with the said state’s law prior to performing any such acts of justice.