Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A citizen's arrest is an arrest performed by a private citizen, as opposed to a sworn law enforcement officer. The practice dates back to medieval England and the English common law. Sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend law breakers.
In the United States, all states permit citizen arrests if a felony crime is witnessed by the citizen carrying out the arrest, or when a citizen is asked to help apprehend a suspect by the police. The application of state laws vary widely with respect to misdemeanor crimes, breaches of the peace, and felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. In California, for example, there is no requirement that a lawful arrest be executed by a citizen (as opposed to an alien or illegal immigrant), and the citizen's arrest is referred to as a "private person arrest." Note particularly that Americans citizens do not have the authorities or the legal protections of the police, and are liable before both the civil law and criminal law for any violation of the rights of another.
Other countries, such as Canada and Sweden allow citizen's arrests under certain circumstances. General provisions tend to be that the crime has to be serious and the arrestee has to be caught in flagrante delicto. As an example, France allows any person to arrest a person having committed in flagrante delicto a crime punishable by a jail or prison term, and to conduct that person before the nearest officer of judiciary police – in practice, nowadays, one would rather call the police in after performing the arrest (Code of penal procedure, L73).
In New Zealand, citizen's arrests can be made if the crime is being committed at night, is punishable by three or more years of imprisonment, and the person is attempting to escape from the person making the arrest. The person making the arrest must also inform the suspect the reason he or she is being arrested and take him or her to the nearest police officer.
Most law enforcement officials discourage anyone from performing a citizen's arrest, especially where physical force is involved. Doing so can subject a person to legal action, including charges of impersonating police, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or wrongful arrest, especially if the wrong person is apprehended or a suspect's civil rights are violated.
The level of responsibility that a person performing a citizen's arrest may bear depends on the jurisdiction. For instance, in France, a person stopping a criminal from committing a crime, including crimes against belongings, is not criminally responsible as long as the means employed are in proportion to the threat.
The act of making an arrest may be dangerous in several senses. First and foremost is the likelihood that the arrest will be resisted, possibly with force or even a weapon. Further, the typical private person is not trained or equipped to carry out an arrest safely – even most security guards who are familiar with citizen's arrests lack sufficient training. Last but not least, many legal jurisdictions consider the citizen's arrest to be a special case where any mistake by the arresting party may result in civil or criminal liability. Excessive force may result in criminal charges against the arresting party!
In areas where police services are available, anyone witnessing a serious crime is strongly advised for their own safety to notify the police rather than attempting direct intervention. Even if intervention is attempted, the safest objective may be to scare off the assailant or criminal rather than to attempt to take them into custody.
In rural or other settings, a general call for help may be more appropriate.
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