A citizen's arrest
is an arrest
made by a person
who is not a sworn law enforcement official
. In common law
jurisdictions, the practice dates back to medieval England
and the English common law
, when sheriffs
encouraged ordinary citizens
to help apprehend law breakers.
Despite the title, the arresting person does not usually have to be a citizen of the country where he is acting, as they are usually designated as any person with arrest powers.
Citizen's arrest laws by country
The power to arrest is granted by both Federal
legislation, however the exact power granted differs depending on jurisdiction. The power to arrest for a Federal offence is granted by s.3Z of the Crimes Act 1914
. Under the Act, a person who is not a police constable
may, without warrant
, arrest another person if they believe on reasonable grounds that:
- the other person is committing or has just committed an indictable offence; and
- proceedings by summons against the other person would not: ensure the appearance of the person before a court in respect of the offence; prevent a repetition or continuation of the offence or the commission of another offence; prevent the concealment, loss or destruction of evidence relating to the offence; prevent harassment of, or interference with, a person who may be required to give evidence in proceedings in respect of the offence; prevent the fabrication of evidence in respect of the offence; or would not preserve the safety or welfare of the person.
A person who arrests another person must, as soon as practicable after the arrest, arrange for the other person, and any property found on the other person, to be delivered into the custody of a constable.
New South Wales
In the Australian
state of New South Wales
, the power to arrest is granted by s.100 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002
. Under the Act, a person may, without a warrant
, arrest another person if:
- the person is in the act of committing an offence under any Act or statutory instrument, or
- the person has just committed any such offence, or
- the person has committed a serious indictable offence for which the person has not been tried.
Section 231 of the Act allows for the use of such force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the person after arrest. A person who arrests another person under s.100 must, as soon as is reasonably practicable, take the person, and any property found on the person, before a magistrate to be dealt with according to law. The magistrate will also decide whether or not the force applied in making the arrest was reasonable in the circumstances.
According to the Law Society of New South Wales, the arresting person should:
- inform the person that they are under arrest,
- inform the person of the reasons for the arrest, and
- touch the person, unless the person submits to the arrest or remains where told.
In the Australian
state of Queensland
, the power to arrest is granted by s.546 of Schedule 1 to the Criminal Code Act 1899
. Under the Act, any person who finds another committing an offence
may, without warrant
, arrest the other person. The power to arrest in Queensland also allows for arrest on suspicion of an offence:
- If the offence has been actually committed--it is lawful for any person who believes on reasonable ground that another person has committed the offence to arrest that person without warrant, whether that other person has committed the offence or not.
s.260 of the Act also provides a power to arrest in preventing a breach of the peace
- It is lawful for any person who witnesses a breach of the peace to interfere to prevent the continuance or renewal of it, and to use such force as is reasonably necessary for such prevention and is reasonably proportioned to the danger to be apprehended from such continuance or renewal, and to detain any person who is committing or who is about to join in or to renew the breach of the peace for such time as may be reasonably necessary in order to give the person into the custody of a police officer.
Any person may arrest a person guilty of a breach of the Criminal Law Consolidated Act. They must make it clear they are arresting the person by words or actions.
Section 494. (Criminal Code)
(1) ARREST WITHOUT WARRANT BY ANY PERSON
Any one may arrest without warrant
(a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or
(b) a person who, on resonable grounds, he believes
(i) has committed a criminal offence, and
(ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person
(2) ARREST BY OWNER, ETC., OF PROPERTY
Any one who is
(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property
may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
(3) DELIVERY TO PEACE OFFICER
Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.
[NOTES: In Canada, only Judges and Lawyers are legally allowed to interpret laws. Changing even a single word of any law found in the Criminal Code is strictly an interpretation and not a valid representation of the law! The previous segment illustrating the "citizens' power of arrest" in Canada was one individuals interpretation and was not completely accurate. A few points to help some people to understand the above section of the Criminal Code of Canada...
-Section 494, sub. 1, (a) is the "General Power of Arrest" for non-peace officers.
- Section 494, sub. 1, (b) is known as the "Assist Power of Arrest" and includes assisting another citizen who witnessed a "Criminal Offence" and, therefore, "... is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person ...". This section of the Criminal Code of Canada IS that authorization.
- Section 494, sub. 2, is the "Owner/Agent" power of arrest. It applies to both security and all other staff (or friends/neighbours if it is a dwelling) of any given property (The reason companies tell their staff they can't make such an arrest is because if the person making the arrest is hurt/killed by the criminal the company becomes liable for the injury or death. Further, most people are neither equipped or trained to make proper arrests which greatly increases the likelihood of injury or death to the citizen).
- in Section 494, sub. 2, (b) "...a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property." includes criminal offences that are not on that property at all. If someone steals from a store, the security personnel who purse the thief can (but rarely ever do) leave the property to continue the pursuit. When the pursuit is broken off the thief is no longer considered to be "freshly pursued" and therefore others are no longer permitted to assist in the apprehension of the criminal (it, then, becomes a matter for the Police to handle).
- All citizens are permitted to use "... as much force as is reasonably necessary ..." as stated in section 27 of the Criminal Code of Canada
Allows any person to arrest a person having been caught in flagrante delicto
committing a crime punishable by a jail or prison term, and to conduct that person before the nearest officer of judiciary police – in modern practice one would rather call the police in after performing the arrest.
Citizen's arrests can be made under §127 StPO (code of penal procedures) if the arrestee is caught in flagrante delicto
and the identity of the person cannot be otherwise established immediately. The person making the arrest is allowed to hold the arrestee solely for the purpose of turning him over to a proper legal authority such as the police. German law does not establish that the crime has to be serious, nor that the person making the arrest has to actually be a citizen of Germany.
Known as the '101 power' in Hong Kong. Under Hong Kong Laws. Chap 221 Criminal Procedure Ordinance
, Section 101 Summary apprehension of offender in certain cases, subsection 2 "Any person may arrest without warrant any person whom he may reasonably suspect of being guilty of an arrestable offence."
Once an arrest is made, the suspect must be delivered to a police office as soon as possible for court proceedings. "Arrestable offence" is defined as any crimes that can be sentenced for more than 12 months of jail time.
Any person can arrest someone who they have reasonable cause is in the act of committing or has committed an "arrestable" offence, that is one punishable by more than 5 years in prison. The arrest can only be effected if the arrestor has reasonable cause that the person will attempt to avoid apprehension by Gardaí
and the arrestor delivers the person to Garda custody as soon as is practicable.
Section 27(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code
allows for a private person to arrest a person who, in his view, has committed a seizable offence or a non-bailable offence :
Any private person may arrest any person who, in his view, commits a non-bailable and seizable offence or who has been proclaimed under section 44 and shall without unnecessary delay hand over the person so arrested to the nearest police officer or, in the absence of a police officer, take that person to the nearest police station.
Sub-section 5 further allows the arrest of a person who commits an offence on or with respect to the property of another by any person who is using the property to which the injury is done, or by the servant of either of those persons or by any person authorized by or acting in aid of either of those persons :
Any person who commits an offence on or with respect to the property of another may if his name and address are unknown be apprehended by the person injured or by any person who is using the property to which the injury is done, or by the servant of either of those persons or by any person authorized by or acting in aid of either of those persons, and may be detained until he gives his name and address and satisfies such person that the name and address so given are correct or until he can be delivered into the custody of a police officer.
A "seizable offence" is defined as an offence in which a police officer may ordinarily arrest without warrant as per defined by the Code .
Article 16 of the 1917 Constitution of Mexico
allows any person to arrest a criminal found in flagrante delicto
Some legal protection exists to those making a citizen's arrest as provided in the Crimes Act 1961
in that there may be justification or protection from criminal responsibility. Justification of the arrest ensures the arresting person is not guilty of an offence and are not liable to any civil proceeding
. Protection from criminal responsibility means those who make the arrest are not liable to any criminal proceedings. They are however liable for civil proceedings
. The legislation is carefully worded and only applies for offences covered in the Crimes Act 1961, not other offences such as those covered in the Summary Offences Act 1981
Specifically, the Crimes Act 1961 states that everyone (not just New Zealand citizens) is justified in arresting without warrant:
- Any person found committing any offence against the Act which the maximum punishment is not less than 3 years' imprisonment; or
- Any person found at night committing any offence against the Act.
Other situations where members of the public are protected from criminal responsibility when involved in arresting where:
- They have been asked by a police officer to help arrest any person believed or suspected to have committed any offence unless they know that there is no reasonable ground for the belief or suspicion.
- They witnesses a breach of the peace, and therefore are justified in interfering to prevent its continuance or renewal, and may detain any person committing it, in order to hand them over to a Police Officer provided that the person interfering does not use more force than is reasonably necessary for preventing the continuance or renewal of the breach of the peace, or than is reasonably proportionate to the danger to be apprehended from its continuance or renewal. Similar legislation applies to suppressions of riots by members of the public.
- They believe, on reasonable and probable grounds, someone has committed an offence against the Crimes Act 1961 and is fleeing and is being pursued by any one they believe can arrest that person for the offence (such as a police officer). This applies whether or not the offence has in fact been committed, and whether or not the arrested person committed it.
According to the Portuguese Code of Criminal Procedure (article 255), any person may arrest someone in the act of committing a crime or fleeing from the crime scene if the crime they were committing is punishable with a prison term of any length. The arrested person must be handed over to the police immediately after it is possible to do so.
Any person may arrest someone in the act of committing a crime or fleeing from the crime scene if the crime they were committing is punishable with a prison term of any length. A person wanted by the police (arrest warrant) can be arrested by anyone at any time. After the arrest, the police must be contacted as soon as possible.
England and Wales
A citizen's arrest (officially called an "any person arrest") is permitted to be made on any person under section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
(as amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
) for an indictable offence
(in this section referred to simply as "an offence"). This includes either way
offences. It is thus permissible for any person to arrest:
- Anyone who is without doubt in the act of committing an offence, or whom the arrestor has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be in the act of committing an offence
- Where an offence has been committed without doubt.., anyone who is without doubt guilty of that offence or whom the arrestor has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it
In order for the arrest to be lawful, the following two conditions must also be satisfied:
- It is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead
- The arrestor has reasonable grounds for believing that the arrest is necessary to prevent one of the following:
- The person causing physical injury to himself or others
- The person suffering physical injury
- The person causing loss of or damage to property
- The person absconding before a constable can assume responsibility for him
Use of the second power above is rather risky, since it relies upon the person carrying out the arrest knowing that an indictable or either way offence has been committed. If, for example, the arrested person is later acquitted in court then it could be concluded that no offence has been committed; thus the arrest would be unlawful. The Act therefore gives a constable three additional powers, to arrest:
- Anyone who is (without doubt) about to commit an offence, or whom the constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence
- Anyone whom the constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of an offence which is merely suspected to have taken place
A constable's arrest power is not limited to indictable offences, and conditions different from the above apply.
In addition to the above, a private person may be authorised to execute an arrest warrant, if the court issuing the warrant has given them the authority to do so, and any person may arrest someone who is "unlawfully at large" (for example, an escaped prisoner).
Similar provisions apply to Northern Ireland as to England and Wales, implemented through the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989
as amended by the Police and Criminal Evidence (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order
While no statutory provision for citizen's arrest exists in Scots Law
, there is a common law
position that anyone committing an offence can be detained using the minimum force necessary with consideration to what is reasonable in the relevant circumstances.
Each state with the exception of North Carolina
permits citizen arrests if the commission of felony
is witnessed by the arresting citizen, or when a citizen is asked to assist in the apprehension of a suspect by police
. The application of state laws
varies widely with respect to misdemeanors, breaches of the peace, and felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. American citizens do not carry the authority or enjoy the legal protections of police, and are held to the principle of strict liability
before the courts of civil-
and criminal law
including but not limited to any infringement of another's rights.
Though North Carolina General Statutes have no provision for citizen's arrests, detention by private persons is permitted and apply to both civilians and police officers outside their jurisdiction.
Detention, being different from an arrest in the fact that a detainee may not be transported without consent, is permitted where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony, breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property.
Legal and political aspects
A person who makes a citizen's arrest could risk exposing himself to possible lawsuits or criminal charges (such as charges of impersonating police, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or wrongful arrest) if the wrong person is apprehended or a suspect's civil rights
The level of responsibility that a person performing a citizen's arrest may bear depends on the jurisdiction. For instance, in France and Germany, a person stopping a criminal from committing a crime, including crimes against belongings, is not criminally responsible as long as the means employed are in proportion to the threat (note, however, that at least in Germany this results from a different legal norm: "self-defense" and "aid to others in immediate danger"—which are concerned with prevention, not prosecution, of crimes).