What You Need to Know About Making a Citizen's Arrest
Whenever possible, you should report wrongdoing to the police instead of taking action on your own. Police officers are equipped with the proper intervention tools and trained to deal with incidents which may escalate to become violent.
Making a citizen's arrest without carefully considering the risk factors may have serious unintended consequences for you and others involved. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person's body in an effort to detain them.
Before deciding whether to make a citizen's arrest, you should be aware of the Citizen's Arrest Laws and consider the following:
- Is it feasible for a peace officer to intervene? If so, report the crime to the police instead of taking action on your own.
- Your personal safety and that of others could be compromised by attempting an arrest. Relevant considerations would include whether the suspect is alone and whether they possess a weapon.
- Will you be able to turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made?
- Do you have a reasonable belief regarding the suspect's criminal conduct?
Making a Citizen's Arrest
If you do decide to make a citizen's arrest, you should:
- Tell the suspect plainly that you are making a citizen's arrest and that you are holding him or her until police arrive.
- Call the police.
- Ask explicitly for his or her cooperation until police arrive.
- Avoid using force, if at all possible, and use it to the minimum possible otherwise.
- Do not question or search the suspect or his or her possessions. Your purpose is only to temporarily detain him or her until police arrive.
- When police arrive, state the plain facts of what happened.
Citizen's Arrest Laws
In most cases, you must find a person either in the act of committing a crime, or escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person, in order to lawfully make a citizen's arrest. In particular, if you are arresting a person for an indictable offence, which is the most serious type of offence and includes violent offences, you can only make the arrest at the time you witness the person committing the offence. It is against the law to arrest a person after any lapse in time for having committed an indictable offence, unless it is relation to your property.
In special circumstances of any type of criminal offence that is committed on or in relation to your property, you may either:
- arrest a person you find in the act of committing a crime; or
- arrest a person within a reasonable period of time after having found that person committing a crime.
To be eligible to make a citizen's arrest for a crime on or in relation to property, you must be one of the following:
- the owner of the property;
- in lawful possession of the property; or
- have been authorized by the owner or the person in lawful possession of the property.
The law allows you to use as much force as is necessary for the purpose of making a citizen's arrest, as long as you are acting on reasonable grounds. However, any force you use must be tailored to the circumstances, and you are criminally responsible for any excess force you use. In addition to the potential for a criminal prosecution, you may also face a civil lawsuit in relation to your conduct and any injury you cause.
The law requires that when making a citizen's arrest, the arrested individual must be delivered to a police officer without delay. If you make a citizen's arrest and do not call the police as soon as possible, the arrest might be ruled illegal, and you could face civil or criminal consequences.
Correctly identifying a suspect
In the special circumstances of making an arrest
"within a reasonable time after" observing an offence (as opposed to while the offence is in progress), you are strongly urged to exercise additional care in confirming the identity of the suspect.
It is always extremely important to correctly identify a suspect and their criminal involvement. If you make a citizen's arrest at the very time a person is found committing a crime, the correct identification of the suspect will not likely be called into question.
However, if you make an arrest
"within a reasonable time after" observing the offence, the accuracy of the identification of the suspect may be called into question.
You need to be conscious of the fact that situational factors such as the presence of a weapon, the number of individuals involved, environmental factors and heightened stress levels can negatively affect your recollection of a past incident and your ability to correctly identify a person you have previously seen committing an offence. Even if you genuinely believe that you have correctly identified the suspect after the crime was observed, the risk of mistaken identity is real, and must not be minimized.
If the person you attempt to arrest is the wrong person, the situation is potentially very dangerous. The person being arrested will not understand why they are being detained and may not submit to the arrest. In these circumstances, there is a real risk that if you arrest the wrong person, you could provoke a violent confrontation, and risk injury or death.
A citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, private citizens are neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. Exercise extreme caution when attempting to make a citizen's arrest.
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