Understanding the concept of a citizen’s arrest

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Under Pennsylvania law, a citizen’s arrest is when a private individual makes or assists in the detainment of another person in a lawful arrest. Criminal law says the use of force is justifiable if law enforcement directed or summoned said person to make the arrest.

The basic framework of a citizen’s arrest

An individual may detain by force another individual if summoned or directed by a peace officer. In another circumstance, that individual may do so if said individual witnesses a third-party breaking the law.

It’s a risky venture for the citizen acting as law enforcement. If this person violates laws governing criminal law, they could be held civilly liable.

Making a citizen’s arrest

There are legal restrictions and guidelines for a citizen’s arrest. They include the following:

  • A person can make an arrest if witnessing a crime.
  • Under the law, anyone known for committing a felony may be detained until law enforcement arrives.
  • A citizen’s arrest can take place if a person is engaging in a misdemeanor. A good example is if a perpetrator is disturbing the peace.

The arresting person has to witness the act and reasonably feel that the behavior will continue. The citizen also must call law enforcement for their arrest to have validity.

When to make an arrest

What’s important to understand is that the arrest has to protect society. A citizen cannot detain another person for running a red light, for example. A misdemeanor act of breaching the peace is the exception. This includes:

  • Causing excessive loud noise
  • Yelling or shouting for excessive periods of time
  • Playing loud music to disturbing levels
  • Letting a dog bark for extensive time periods
  • Fighting or threatening to engage or cause a fight in public

A citizen’s arrest can be an effective law enforcement tool, but the arresting individual has to understand the guidelines or risk putting themselves and others in jeopardy. They should never treat making a citizen’s arrest lightly.