history of citizen's arrests, citizen's arrest in today's society, and give examples of citizen's arrests, the outcomes, etc. It will also look at the downside of making a citizen's arrest, including the repercussions to that individual such as civil action, liability, etc. Citizen's arrests are more common than they have been in the past, with many states reporting higher incidents of these types of arrests (Grossack, Takata). Citizen's arrests have a long and varied history, and are still a frequently valid form of citizen involvement in the often complex process of law enforcement and criminal justice.
The history of citizen's arrests goes back to the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon law in medieval England. Because the medieval sheriffs were spread so thin, they encouraged citizen involvement in law enforcement. David C. Grossack, a Constitutional attorney notes, "Sheriffs encouraged and relied upon active participation by able bodied persons in the towns and villages of their jurisdiction" (Grossack). As a matter of fact, English citizens had the nearly the same rights to make arrests as the officials did, and this tradition continued in the Constitutional concept of posse comitatus, which continues in both the United States and England today. Basically, this concept gives a private citizen or group of citizens to arrest anyone breaking the law.
Many people believe the right to make a citizen's arrest is based in the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees a person's right to self-preservation and the defense of other citizens (Grossack). By definition, most states agree that a citizen's arrest involves a private citizen arresting a suspect on their own. They can do this when they witness a suspect committing a crime or when they have a reasonable belief that the suspect has committed a felony crime. Some states, such as Kentucky, even allow for the use of deadly force while making a citizen's arrest, while many others prohibit deadly force.
Who makes citizen's arrests? Just about anyone can make a citizen's arrest if it is justified. There are some criteria. Most states do require that the crime be a felony before the citizen can make an arrest. Any private citizen can make an arrest, so your friend, your neighbor, or even your spouse can legally make an arrest if the criteria are correct. The law does not stipulate who can make an arrest, just what type of crime qualifies for a citizen's arrest. For example, you could not arrest your neighbor if he was making too much noise at 2:00 A.M. On a Saturday morning, but you could arrest your neighbor if you saw him break into a house or rob a person.
While citizen's arrests are often helpful to law enforcement, many repercussions can come from making citizen's arrests, and as noted, they are becoming more common in today's society. Many states have statutes that allow a suspect who a judge or jury does not convict of the crime to turn around and sue the citizen who made the arrest. There are also other technicalities in most states that only allow citizen's arrests of felony violations. Many experts believe that citizen's arrests are becoming more common because of the increased crime in the country and because more people are viewing citizen's arrest stories on television and in other media. Today, most people know what a citizen's arrest is and are not afraid to attempt to make one on their own. While this can be a rewarding experience, there are also problems with making a citizen's arrest that can be dangerous and extremely damaging.
For example, in 1999 a Maryland woman was actually charged with "false imprisonment" and "disturbing the peace" when she attempted to block a car that had illegally parked in a handicapped parking space. She called the police and felt she was justified in making a citizen's arrest, but in Maryland, citizen's arrests are only valid for felonies and misdemeanors that "breach the public peace" (Schneider 7). While the police did eventually issue a ticket to the person who parked illegally, they also charged the woman, Linda Shepard-Gebhart, who had to appear in court to argue her case. This is an excellent example of a citizen's arrest gone wrong. Shepard-Gebhart was under the impression that any offense was fair game for a citizen's arrest. The prevalence of these types of arrests on television and in the media could give that impression to just about any citizen. However, if a person is interested in citizen's arrests and the procedures, they would be wise to find out what their state or local statutes dictate before they make a citizen's arrest.
Another example of a successful citizen's arrest occurred in 1997 in Washington D.C., when several customers witnessed a bank robbery at a Citibank branch in the city. One unidentified customer followed the robber out of the branch, ascertained he did not have a weapon, and pushed him up against a plate-glass window until police arrived. The customer also attempted to "read" the robber his Miranda Rights. A Washington D.C. reporter notes, "The customer rattled off a disjointed version of Marable's Miranda rights, and, when police arrived, he even asked them to hand over the handcuffs so he could cuff the suspect. They declined" (Trugman 1). D.C. police were happy for the help, but worried other citizens might get the same idea and be harmed in the process. Reporter Trugman notes a police representative comment, "We're trying to recognize him for his efforts but not encourage others to do the same thing." He did take a calculated risk, but he said he felt certain that the fellow was not armed nor did he have an explosive device" (Trugman 1). This is one of the major problems with citizen's performing arrests. They may arrest the wrong person, or they could even be killed or wounded in their zeal to corner the suspect. In this case, the customer used good judgment. The suspect, 42-year-old Ronald Marable, was a convicted bank robber released from prison just five days prior to the robbery.
Another type of citizen's arrest that is not so well-known is used by private security guards, who often have no real law enforcement jurisdiction other than training, an I.D. badge, and perhaps a gun. One example is a private security guard who made an arrest while on duty at a woman's clinic. The guard and his coworkers made citizen's arrests of several anti-abortion picketers on the woman's clinic property. Eventually, the case went to a Circuit Court because the picketers said their right to free speech had been violated by the arrest. The court decided, "The security officer had no law enforcement affiliation and had not acted pursuant to police instructions or in a joint operation with the police. In the court's view he had taken on a public function" (Hannon 8). Because he was not acting in an "official" capacity for his employer, the court ruled that the evidence he gathered was not admissible in court.
This case points out a problem with private security firms and their use of citizen's arrests. Many of their arrests may not stand up in court no matter how valid they are. Most people do not think of private security firms when they think of citizen's arrests, but today, there are many more of these firms employed around the country, and so, the issue of citizen's arrests and how these private security guards perform them will certainly continue to be important to these firms.
Many critics of citizen's arrests point out the "vigilante" quality to them, especially when the citizen feels the criminal justice system has broken down in some way. Another expert writes, "To what degree can or should the code be formulated to represent people's views about a perceived or actual breakdown of the criminal justice system?" (Robinson and Darley 207). In other words, when can the justice system justify citizens taking the law into their own hands? This is another complex problem with no easy answers.
There is another problematic aspect to citizen's arrests, and that is the liability of the citizen. As noted, suspects can sue citizen's who make arrests in many states if they are not convicted of a crime. Some citizens may actually be arrested themselves, as in the case of the Maryland woman. They may face criminal or monetary liability if the citizen harms the suspect in any way during the arrest. There are numerous things that can go wrong with a citizen's arrest, and that is why they should not be taken lightly. There is another problem with these types of arrests, too. Most states also prohibit any kind of malicious intent in performing a citizen's arrest. For example, an angry woman cannot arrest her husband or boyfriend simply because she wants to "get even" with him (Grossack). A person cannot torture or intentionally harm a person either, or interfere with their civil rights. Obviously, there are many contingencies to making a citizen's arrest, and a person should be…