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Can You Really Make a Citizen’s Arrest in California?

April 29, 2020

If you don’t follow the law in making a citizen's arrest, you could be charged with a crime.

Can You Really Make a Citizen's Arrest in California?

You may have seen it in a move or on TV — someone making a citizen's arrest. It usually involves a person shouting loudly, and then taking down a “bad guy” in some way. But are you really allowed to make a citizen's arrest in California?

According to a criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA, the answer is yes — in some situations. A citizen’s arrest happens when a person makes an arrest when they lack the authority to do so because they are not a law enforcement officer or government agent. A person can do this on their own, or ask others to help them make the arrest. This type of arrest is specifically authorized under California law, but only in certain situations.

So when are you allowed to make a citizen’s arrest? There are three situations when it is legal:

  1. A person commits or attempts to commit a misdemeanor offense in your presence;
  2. You know, directly, or indirectly, that a person committed a felony; and/or
  3. A felony has been committed and you have reasonable cause to believe that the person committed.

Doing this requires some knowledge of California criminal law. As a criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA, a misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense. Being drunk in public and petty theft are examples of misdemeanor crimes. In contrast, felonies are more serious offenses, like murder, rape/sexual assault, or selling a controlled substance.

To lawfully make a citizen’s arrest, you must follow certain steps:

  • Inform the other person that you intend to arrest them;
  • State why you are arresting them;
  • Explain why you have the authority to make the arrest (if possible); and
  • Tell the other person that you have called the police (if you have done so).

Importantly, if you plan to make a citizen’s arrest, you need to do so as soon as possible after the basis for the arrest has arisen. If you wait too, then you will no longer have the authority to make an arrest.

Making a citizen’s arrest is not without risk. Deciding to arrest someone who you believe has committed a crime can put your own safety at risk — and it may also lead to criminal and/or civil liability. If you make a citizen’s arrest and the person did not commit a crime, there was no reasonable cause to believe that they committed a crime, or if you use too much force, you could be sued. In addition, you could be charged with a crime yourself. According to a criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA, an unlawful citizen’s arrest could lead to charges of assault and battery, false imprisonment, or even kidnapping.

A citizen’s arrest may seem like something out of a movie — but it is a real thing that California citizens can do in limited situations. If you have been charged with a crime related to a citizen’s arrest — or if you were the subject of a citizen’s arrest that you believe was unlawful — we can help. Contact the Chambers Law Firm today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a skilled lawyer.

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