How To Make a Citizen’s Arrest

A citizen’s arrest is when a person who has the power of arresting someone other than a law enforcement officer arrests another individual. The specific legal basis for making this type of arrest varies by state and country, but in most jurisdictions the authority to make an arrest can be found within common law.

The “how to make a citizens arrest california” is a technique that you can use if you want to take someone into custody without the help of law enforcement.

Illustration citizen in suit knocking down the attacker.

I believe we’ve all considered it at one point or another. What would you do if you saw a crime being committed? Would you contact the cops and leave it to them, or would you attempt to save the day by chasing down the purse thief and making a citizen’s arrest? If you’re anything like me, you’ve undoubtedly fantasized about picking the second choice. Consider how awesome you’d feel after apprehending some bad guys and tying them up for delivery to the cops. You’d be the top story on the 10 o’clock news, the mayor would hand you the key to the city, and ladies would swoon when they spotted you in the grocery store’s self-checkout line.

However, there are a few things you should know about making a citizen’s arrest before you deputize yourself as local sheriff. You may become the neighborhood hero if you do things correctly. If done incorrectly, you may find yourself facing a costly lawsuit or perhaps criminal prosecution.

Alternatively, you may wind up looking like Gomer Pyle:


Unfortunately, conducting a citizen’s arrest is much more complex and far less romantic than you may have imagined.

However, it is still worthwhile to understand about. So let’s get this party started.

(There are a few things to keep in mind.) I’ll be concentrating on citizen’s arrest legislation in the United States since I’m an American and the bulk of our readers are Americans. Also, while having attended law school, I am not a lawyer. It goes without saying that nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice. It is just for the purpose of providing information and pleasure.)

When Can a Citizen’s Arrest Be Made?

Citizens’ arrests have been legal in England since the Middle Ages. Sheriffs in their area urged people to arrest offenders and detain them in jail until a sheriff with sufficient authority could come and administer the sentence. The practice of citizen’s arrest was carried over into English common law, and we inherited it since our legal system is founded on English common law.

The right to conduct citizen arrests was controlled by common law in the early years of America’s history. Today, state statutes regulate this authority. Except for a few states like North Carolina and Washington, every state in the US has legislation allowing private persons to conduct arrests.

While most jurisdictions allow civilians to conduct arrests, each state has its own set of regulations that regulate when a private person may make an arrest.

Arrest of a citizen for a felony. You can only make a citizen’s arrest in most states if someone commits a crime in your presence. Though you reasonably suspect a person has committed a felony, you may arrest them even if you didn’t witness them conduct the act. Oh, and the person you’re arresting has to be the one who did the crime. You might face charges if you wrongly believed you observed the person you arrested conduct a criminal when he didn’t. I’ll get to it later.


In most jurisdictions, a crime must be committed before a person may be placed under citizen’s arrest. So, what kind of offenses are considered felonies? It all depends on where you live. Murder, rape, and armed robbery are all considered crimes in most jurisdictions. If specific circumstances are satisfied, crimes including theft, arson, and violence may be classified as felonies. If the value of the item(s) taken exceeds $500 in Oklahoma, for example, theft becomes a felony.

Arrest of a citizen for offenses. Private persons in several states have the authority to make arrests for minor misdemeanor offenses. In most jurisdictions that allow citizen’s arrest for misdemeanors, you must actually observe the individual conduct the crime and put the offender under arrest right away. In addition, the misdemeanor must be a “breach of the peace.”

What is the definition of a breach of the peace? Well, it is debatable.

We’ll keep it generic since the meaning of a breach of the peace varies per state. Breach of the peace is usually defined as brawling and fighting in public, public drunkenness that disturbs order, and prostitution. Even using words that would cause a reasonable person to become violent might be considered a breach of the peace in Oklahoma.

Check your state’s laws to see when a citizen’s arrest is permitted. The majority of states make their legislation available online.

What is the procedure for making a citizen’s arrest?

You’ve seen a crime being committed and have chosen to make a citizen’s arrest. What are your responsibilities? Do I need to say anything else?

In most places, all you have to do to conduct a citizen’s arrest is properly indicate your intent to put the individual under arrest by words or action. So all you have to say is, “Hey, knucklehead, I’m putting you under citizen’s arrest until the police arrive.”

You may use reasonable force to detain and confine the arrestee once you’ve communicated your desire to arrest them. Below, we’ll go through what defines acceptable force in greater detail.

You are not required to read the crook’s rights. It is the police’s responsibility to do so.

Call the cops as soon as you detain someone so they can take possession of the terrible man. You are responsible for the evil person while he is in your possession. Ensure that he is kept in a safe environment.

What is the maximum amount of force you can use?

When initiating a citizen’s arrest, you usually have the authority to use reasonable force to restrain the bad guy until the cops come. What is reasonableness? Again, it depends (I know, I’m providing a lot of lawyer-like responses here for a non-lawyer).

If you observe a terrible man commit a violation but he isn’t running, justifiable force would be taking his arm and stating, “I’m placing you under a citizen’s arrest until the cops arrive.”


Exercising a flying leap kick to the sternum and then placing him in a sleeper hold while murmuring “shhhh…go to sleep my lovely little wicked one” would very certainly be deemed excessive force, and you may be held accountable for any damage the bad person sustains.

But let’s switch things up a little. Let’s imagine you observe this same person committing a crime but he flees. Chasing him down and tackling him to the ground is a justifiable use of force. You can use enough force to defend yourself and guarantee that he remains there until the police arrive if he begins to struggle away. So a rib punch and a well-placed arm hold could be necessary. If the bad person is hurt during the brawl, you won’t be held accountable as long as the amount of force you employed was appropriate.

What about using lethal force? Can you ever conduct a citizen’s arrest by using force that has the potential to kill someone (such as shooting them with a gun)? The use of lethal force in a citizen’s arrest is governed by various laws in each state. Most states prohibit the use of lethal force unless the arresting officer (or a third party) is in imminent danger of severe bodily harm or death. If Mr. Bad Guy has a pistol and is aiming it at you or onlookers while you’re attempting to apprehend him, you may shoot him, throw a knife at him, or even chop him in the back like Mel Gibson in The Patriot.

Even if there is no fear of significant physical damage or death, several jurisdictions allow private persons to use lethal force to halt a fleeing arrestee. For example, some conditions empower a citizen to arrest “a person in the evening by such measures as the darkness and the chance of escape make necessary, even if the person’s life should be taken,” according to South Carolina law.

In other words, if it’s late at night and a criminal is fleeing, you may use lethal force to make a citizen’s arrest in South Carolina.

In other states that authorize deadly force during citizen arrests, you’re typically forced to use more reasonable and less fatal tactics to apprehend fleeing convicts before going full Dirty Harry on them.

Is it Possible to Be Sued and/or Arrested for a Citizen’s Arrest?

I’m sure we’ve all heard tales of some Good Guy Greg making a citizen’s arrest only to be handcuffed in the rear of a police vehicle or sued by Mr. Bad Guy. These kinds of tales irritate our sense of fairness. Why should someone be penalized for attempting to do what is right?

The problem with citizen arrests is that when they try to arrest someone, private persons are held severely accountable. That means you might face both civil and criminal prosecution if your arrest fails to fulfill even one of the standards listed above. I’m afraid your noble intentions aren’t worth a damn.


Consider the felony requirement, for example. You’re out jogging and see a man jimmying open a vehicle door with a coat hanger.

“That’s Grand Theft Auto!” exclaims the narrator. Felony! “I have the authority to detain this individual!”

You creep up behind him and grasp him discreetly.

“I’m going to put you under citizen’s arrest!” You exclaim triumphantly.

“You moron, let go of me!” This is my vehicle! It’s only that I’m shut out.”

Oh no. You’re in serious danger.

Remember that most states require that a crime has been committed before a citizen’s arrest may be issued. There are no exceptions for legitimate errors. The man you were wrongfully detained might prosecute you with violence and assault, and he could sue you for battery and false arrest, among other things. Lesson: Before you arrest someone, make sure they’ve truly done anything wrong.

The reasonable force standard is an area where many individuals get into issue with citizen arrests. Remember that you may only detain someone with a fair amount of force given the circumstances. If you beat a person up while making an arrest when merely holding him down would have sufficed, the cops may prosecute you with criminal assault and battery, and the bad guy may sue you for any injuries he sustained during the arrest.

Even if you fulfill all of the criteria for a valid citizen’s arrest to avoid criminal charges, Mr. Bad Guy may nevertheless file a civil action against you. Yes, you will be able to defend yourself in court, but it will take a significant amount of time and money.

So, with all of this in mind, should you make a citizen’s arrest?

It is debatable (you knew it was coming).

In addition to the legal ramifications, you’re jeopardizing your own personal safety. Every man must consider the dangers and benefits before deciding whether it is worthwhile to take justice into his own hands.



A “citizen’s arrest” is a legal term that refers to an action in which someone detains another person for suspected criminal activity. In Georgia, if you are the victim of a crime and feel threatened, you can make a citizen’s arrest. Reference: how to make a citizen’s arrest in georgia.

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