Can I Make a Citizen’s Arrest in CA?

California Citizen’s Arrests

Under Penal Code 837, a private person may arrest another under the following circumstances:

  • For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
  • When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in his presence.
  • When a felony has been committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.

“In the presence” rule: To arrest someone for a felony or “wobbler” offense, an officer or civilian needs only probable cause. If the crime was a misdemeanor or an infraction, it must have been committed in the “presence” of the arresting person. This rule doesn’t apply if the arrestee was a minor.

Not all misdemeanor crimes warrant a lawful citizen’s arrest. Some crimes are exempt due to their seriousness. They include:

  • assault on school property
  • carrying loaded firearm
  • gun in airport
  • “stale” misdemeanors
  • domestic violence
  • assault on elder
  • assault on firefighter, paramedic engaged in the performance of their duties.
  • Driving under the influence if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the following circumstances existed:
    • the arrestee had been involved in an auto accident
    • the arrestee was in or about a vehicle obstructing a roadway
    • the arrestee would not be apprehended unless immediately arrested
    • the arrestee might harm himself or damage property if not immediately arrested
    • the arrestee might destroy or conceal evidence unless immediately arrested
    • an immediate arrest was necessary to accurately determine the arrestee’s blood alcohol level

How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest in CA

Citizen’s arrests can be dangerous and risky. That’s why it’s best to leave the job to police officers. However, if a citizen’s arrest must be made before the police arrive, it’s in your best interests to comply with the following steps to ensure you handle the situation as safely and effectively as possible.

  1. Call the police. Inform the dispatcher that you want to make a citizens’ arrest and why. The dispatcher may offer some advice on how to best handle the situation until a police officer arrives.
  2. Inform the suspect that you are making a citizen’s arrest and why, and that you will detain them until the cops arrive.
  3. Avoid using force, if possible, but if necessary, only apply reasonable force. Do not use excessive force, or you and the suspect may end up getting in trouble.
  4. Do not violate the suspect’s Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Searching their pockets or purse could get you in trouble.
  5. When the police arrive, tell them what happened and stick around until you are told to leave.

While citizens’ arrests are an effective means of enforcing the law when police officers aren’t present, they can also go entirely wrong. Arresting citizens may, ironically, get arrested themselves because they improperly handled the situation and violated the law. If you had good intentions when making a citizen’s arrest but unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of the law in doing so, let us know. Call (559) 484-2112 so our Fresno criminal defense attorney can work to help you out of your unexpected situation.

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