When Can You Conduct a Citizen's Arrest?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 26, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There may come a point in your life during which you're walking down the street only to witness a crime. You may or may not consider stepping in and conducting a citizen's arrest.

It's okay if you choose not to--it is, after all, a risky move.

But what if you want to initiate a citizen's arrest? In which situations is it allowed?

The important thing to remember about a citizen's arrest is that, though you are not law enforcement nor are you bound by strict Constitutional limitations, you may not step in whenever you so desire.

Indeed, an improper citizen's arrest opens you up to both civil and criminal liability.

Generally speaking, in most states, you can only make a lawful citizen's arrest in the following two situations:

  • If a felony has been committed and you reasonably believe that the arrestee committed the crime.
  • If the crime involves a breach of the peace, and you witnessed the behavior and the breach has just occurred or is likely to continue.

Even so, you may only utilize reasonable force, which means the amount of force necessary to make the arrest possible. Additionally, some states do not permit a private citizen to use deadly force when making a citizen's arrest.

Conducting an improper arrest or using improper force can lead to a civil lawsuit for false imprisonment, assault, battery and wrongful death. Criminally, you can also be charged with assault, battery and violating another's Constitutional rights.

In other words, you can conduct a citizen's arrest, but only at your own risk.

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