Impress your friends. Impress your significant other. Impress your local chapter of the FOP. Annoy the perpetrator of a significantly illegal crime. And you can even use cuffs. Armed with this very simple information you, YES YOU, can make a citizen's arrest tonight!

If you are witness to a crime in progress and you are a US citizen, it is perfectly allowable, by protected empowerment of the Ninth Amendment, for you to make an arrest. But don't go around thinking that you're going to be the Joe Public version of Dirty Harry. There are some criteria that must be present before you can throw some nefarious evil-doer into The Clink.

  1. You MUST witness the crime in progress. Hearsay is hearsay and is not admissable as cause for arrest- even for the cops. If there are other witnesses present, it is advisable to request their assistance and/or get their names and addresses.
  2. The offense MUST be committed during the night time. This is a very important condition: DARKNESS, not daylight. If the sun is out, call the cops.
  3. The offense MUST be a crime that is punishable by 3 years imprisonment. This includes murder, all forms of physical assault (including sexual assault), breaking and entering, fraud, kidnapping, drug offenses, terrorism, conspiracy to commit a federal crime, theft, vehicular manslaughter, destruction of public property (note: not vandalism), fleeing arrest from a certified public authority figure (federal and local) and probably quite a number of other highly illegal activities. The level of punishment for the crime, however, is a vital key here.

If you feel that there is cause for using force to subdue or overcome the criminal, then you must go to great pains to make sure that the level of force used is reasonable. Striking, shooting, kicking or other forms of physical assault could get you into as much trouble as your arrestee, so be damn careful not to inflict harm on the assailant. Also, if you feel that the situation is unsafe or dangerous, it is the wisest course of action to call the local authorities. The phone is mightier than the sword here, folks. The assailant will probably not take kindly to being restrained and might become dangerous to you and those around you. Don't get cocky.

There is no need to read the person their Miranda Rights. All that you are legally required to do is inform the suspect/perpetrator of the crime that you are arresting them for and that you are conducting them to the nearest Police station/officer. Beyond that, you don't have to tell them anything else unless you really want to. By the same token, you do not have any legal rights to question, interrogate or search the person- the Fifth Amendment goes both ways.

Once you have gotten the suspect/perp to the local authorities, you will be asked to fill out an arrest form. You must represent the facts as precisely, objectively and honestly as possible and submit your name and contact information. When filling out the arrest form, you are discouraged from coloring your account with personal impressions ("I think", "He/she looked like he was about to", "He/she appeared as though"- anything that is not 100% factual... it is hoped that noders would know the difference between facts and GTKY topics). Then you sign the form and go on your merry way. The District Attorney will contact you later and request you to appear in court as, most likely, a material witness.

Again, I can not stress how important it is to use extreme caution before making a citizen's arrest. Keep in mind that while this "power" is given under the pretense of the Ninth Amendment, it is more of an allowance than an actual right. You have the right to exercise this option, but you are not required to do so by law. It is safer, wiser and sometimes smarter to just call the cops and let them deal with it. Try not to undertake this task alone if you can avoid it- there is safety in numbers, as it were. If you can whip up support and assistance from any nearby citizens, that would be better than going it alone.

As with any other civic duty, you are encouraged to use this option with responsibility rather than impunity. If you make a mistake, do not fulfill the requirements listed above or neglect to be 100% certain that a crime is, indeed, in progress then you can and most likely will be brought up on charges for wrongful arrest (yes, citizens can be just as accountable as police in that regard- yet another reason to be careful). Doing this once or twice in your lifetime would probably mark you as a citizen in good standing. DO NOT MAKE A CAREER OF IT! Doing so could mark you, equally, as a borderline vigilante and the police tend to frown on vigilantism in most cases.

I hope you have found this information useful and empowering. Just the same, though, I hope that none of you (or me, for that matter) find themselves in a situation where making a citizen's arrest is necessary. In all honesty, it seems like more of a pain in the ass than it's worth. I'd rather just call 911 and keep my nose clean.

Sources: Life and asking really odd questions at really odd times.