History or Hoax – Citizen’s Arrest


Caroline Dew, Senior Editor

Many people, while driving, find themselves stepping on their brakes a bit when they pass a police car, even if they aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong. People generally become more aware of their behaviors when they are around officers. Around a group of friends, however, it’s usually the opposite. People don’t really think twice about speeding on an empty back road with their friends, or ordering a water at McDonalds but filling the cup up at the machine with Coke. The threat of being arrested isn’t really there. Well, at least, it doesn’t seem like it’s there. According to some interpretations of a federal law, anyone can perform a citizen arrest in the right circumstances (According to common sense though, a citizen’s arrest really isn’t a great idea). The state laws regarding citizen’s arrest vary from state to state.


To define a citizen’s arrest, Duhaime.org states that a citizen’s arrest is “Detainment of a person suspected of having committed a crime, by a person other than a police officer…” According to this definition, then it seems like anyone can commit a citizen’s arrest for any crime in any situation. This definition is simply a broad one, and citizen’s arrest is much more complicated than just tackling someone because you saw them take a piece of candy. The federal “law” relating to citizens arrest doesn’t explicitly state “citizen’s arrest”, but Title 18, Section 2236, talks about arrests and when they are warranted. It seems, at the beginning, that the section is talking about law enforcement officers only. But later in the statement, they become more vague, referring to “any persons” making arrests. This is interpreted by some as referring to citizens arrest.


Citizen’s arrest in state laws are cookie-cutter compared to the federal “law” regarding citizen arrest. Some state laws require a felony to occur before a citizen can do anything. It’s important that the citizen sees the felony occurring, however. If the citizen makes an arrest and the felony didn’t actually occur, the citizen making the arrest could become subject to legal charges. Different states have different laws about use of force during citizen’s arrest. Some states allow for use of reasonable force, while others specifically prohibit the use of deadly force unless the citizen making an arrest is attempting to protect himself or others from being harmed.


Making a citizen’s arrest comes with lots of risks. If someone came up to you and said that they were placing you under citizen’s arrest, you’d probably laugh. If they persisted, you may get angry. This is often times the case. According to the Stuff You Should Know podcast, four men attempted to arrest a purse snatcher, when an ally of the snatcher came up and started stabbing the men. Citizen’s arrest can be extremely dangerous.


All in all, a citizen’s arrest is technically legal, but you’d probably be safer if you didn’t. Unless someone is being actively harmed, then you should probably call an actual police officer. They are trained to arrest people.