Citizen's Privilege to Arrest

Basic Points / Legal Points to Consider

Citizen's Privilege versus the "vigilante"

Some of the basic points regarding Citizens Privilege to Arrest


The term "privilege" means:

"the right of an individual to act contrary to the right of another individual without being subject to tort or other liability."

However, an individual's privilege can be lost if he uses the privilege improperly.


The term "arrest" means:

"taking a person into custody to bring before the proper authorities."


A citizen can arrest a person for a Felony, if:

a) The citizen knows that the person committed the felony


b) The citizen uses "reasonable force"


A citizen can arrest a person for a Misdemeanor, if:

a) The misdemeanor is an act of violence or is likely to cause immediate disturbance of the public order,


b) The citizen witnessed the misdemeanor,


c) The citizen arrests the person immediately after the misdemeanor occurred, or after fresh pursuit


d) the citizen uses "reasonable force."


Some Legal Points to Consider

Here I offer some legal points to consider, based on my legal training and from additional reading:


1. Be certain that the person actually committed the felony.

Suppose that the person you arrested did not actually commit a felony (oops!). In some states you can be sued for false arrest, while in other states you may be okay.

For most states, the general rule for a citizen identifying a felons is as follows: "The citizen has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person arrested by the citizen probably committed the felony."

If your state has this type of phrasing, then you have a lot of leeway. The terms "reasonable grounds" and "probably committed" give you a lot of latitude. In these states, if you had "reasonable grounds", then you may be okay.

However, other states are more firm in this element of the law. In some states, if the person did not commit a felony, then you will be in legal trouble. (You could be sued for "false imprisonment.")

Therefore, you should be very certain that a person has indeed committed a felony before you arrest him.

For example, if you wish to arrest an illegal immigrant, then you should have some kind of evidence that the person is in fact an illegal alien. (This evidence might include his falsified documents, or actually witnessing the person cross the border).


2. What is "Reasonable Force"?

This can be a delicate area, even for professional police officers. There are infinite possible situations, but the general rule of thumb is to always use the least force necessary.


3. Laws vary from state to state.

Most states have very similar laws for most situations; however, there are always variations. If you want to use your privilege to arrest an illegal alien, then you must be sure to do it within the specifics allowed by your state.

When looking up the specific laws, use the terms "privilege to arrest" (what you can do), and the other side of that concept: "false imprisonment" (what you can't do).


Citizen's Privilege versus the "vigilante"

Do not be fooled by those who speak on behalf of criminals and terrorists. We do have this privilege. This is not "taking the law into our own hands." This is not "vigilantism."

This is our right. It is not the act of a vigilante.

Let us distinguish between the "vigilante" and the citizen using his privilege to arrest:

There are two distinguishing traits of the "vigilante": 1) the vigilante does not allow due process (there is no trial), and 2) the vigilante punishes without having legal authority to punish.

In contrast, when the citizen uses his Privilege to Arrest he does neither of those acts.

When the citizen uses this privilege, he arrests the accused, and detains the accused humanely. However, the accused is then handed over to the appropriate authorities. These authorities allow due process (so that the accused can defend himself, if he is indeed innocent). Furthermore, the "authorities" have government authorization to punish a criminal when he is convicted.

Thus, again, do not be fooled by those who speak on behalf of criminals or terrorists. Citizens of the United States do indeed have the Citizen's Privilege to Arrest.

If we use this privilege appropriately, we are not taking the law into our own hands. To the contrary, we are doing our part to protect the general welfare of our communities.


Mark Fennell