Citizen’s Arrest: How Private Citizens can Apprehend Criminals
What is a citizen’s arrest?
A citizen’s arrest is a physical arrest made by a person who is not acting as a sworn law enforcement official. The practice of making a citizen’s arrest dates back to medieval England and English common law, when sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend criminals.
Despite being called citizens arrest, the arresting person (the person conducting the citizen’s arrest) is usually considered to be any person with arrest powers, who need not be a citizen of the jurisdiction in which they are acting.
Citizen’s arrests are an uncommon practice in current times. However, with the heightened threat of terrorism, many citizens are more watchful and willing to take action to prevent a terrorist act, especially on commercial airline flights. In these situations, many citizens are willing to take the necessary action to prevent the crime from occurring, rather than attempting to make a formal citizen’s arrest.
Barney Fife helped to make the term famous on an episode of Andy Griffith when the actor yelled, “Citizen’s Arrest! Citizen’s Arrest!”. It is highly unlikely that you will hear someone use the phrase today, other than in jest.
For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.
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