If you see a crime being committed and no police officer is in sight, you have the right to make a citizen’s arrest. If you do decide to make one, be very careful. Not only do you risk being hurt if the suspect is armed or
dangerous but you may be sued if you make a mistake.
You are entitled to make a citizen’s arrest when you see a felony (a serious crime usually involving violence) or someone fleeing from one. Check with your local police department or district attorney to learn if you can arrest someone for a misdemeanor (a minor crime, such as vandalism).
Most citizen’s arrests are for shoplifting. If you have only a hunch that someone has committed a crime, don’t arrest the suspect. Instead, call the police immediately and give them whatever facts you have. Remember, if the suspect committed no crime, he or she can sue you for false arrest or false imprisonment, even though you thought a crime took place.
You don’t need a warrant to make an arrest since there is no time to get one. But be sure to make the arrest during or immediately following the crime; otherwise the arrest is illegal.
Tell the person that you are making a citizen’s arrest for the named crime and are taking him or her to the nearest police officer. Ask bystanders for help if you need it and try to get their names and addresses in case they’re needed later as witnesses.
The suspect can refuse your request or resist your efforts (but not those of a police officer). If the suspect uses force, respond only with reasonable force to subdue him. Otherwise, you might face charges and a possible civil lawsuit for assault.
After you arrest a suspect, you have no right to question or search him or to seize evidence. Hand the suspect over to the police and remain available to answer their questions.
Although it is your right to make a citizen’s arrest in certain situations, the law does not require you to do so. On the other hand, the police can order you to help them apprehend a suspect. If you refuse, you might be subject to criminal prosecution.