Most people have heard of citizens’ arrests but remain hazy about what they really are. Can ordinary people really arrest someone just like the police? What are the rules for a citizen’s arrest and what are the differences if any between a citizen’s arrest and an arrest made by an Alaska law enforcement officer?
Can a private person make an arrest if they just think that the other person was out to do no good? Not exactly. Citizens’ arrests typically have more restrictions on them than arrests made by the police. Generally, a private citizen can only make an arrest, i.e. detain someone, if they believe that a crime is about to occur, has just occurred or is occurring where they are at that point in time. A citizen’s arrest cannot be made if the person under attention has been, or is, committing a misdemeanor. This is only allowed if the crime that was thought to have occurred or about to occur was a felony offense, i.e. a serious crime which could result in definite jail time if convicted.
The private person does not need a warrant if they believe a serious crime is being carried out. However, if they believe that a misdemeanor (i.e. a less serious crime) is being carried out the best approach is to call the police and let them handle it.
Force against a person being accused of committing a crime must be weighed up against the possible repercussions. Generally, private citizens may use what is termed “non deadly” force, unless the person confronted appears to be dangerous, has become aggressive and may be a danger to life or has a weapon that might be used. Non deadly force means physically overpowering the person and taking them to a police station, if that is possible, or keeping them under restraint while police are on their way.
Can I refuse a citizen’s arrest?
That’s a good question! Generally, if you have been stopped by the police and have been told that you are under arrest, then it is not a smart move to resist arrest and make a run for it. You can even end up with an additional charge, i.e. that of resisting arrest, added to the one the police are alleging that you have already carried out/
There is no clear picture what you could do legally if you are confronted by a non-uniformed person who claims that you are under citizen’s arrest. Should you believe that the person was genuine, or should you think that the person is either a bit mad or deluded? Few individuals would be happy to go along with such a request. Many people would probably swear, make a run for it, simply ignore the citizen’s arrest or even resist using force. Any of these responses, however justified, could easily escalate the encounter. If you really believe that there is no justification for a citizen’s arrest, one option is to ask the “citizen” to ring the police and talk to them about it. Say that you will wait until a policeman arrives.
What legal problems might arise if I make a citizens’ arrest?
If your grounds for an arrest are spurious or not justified, you could end up being sued by the very person you were about to bring to justice. If you use non reasonable force in restraining someone, then you may face a charge of assault, or at least get into more trouble with the police than it is worth.
What might be construed as an occasion in which you feel you are forced to use deadly force and are carrying a handgun at the time, you should think very carefully about the possible repercussions if the person you are trying to arrest resists your attempt and either tries to run off or threatens you. Theoretically, you should be able to use deadly force as a private citizen carrying out an arrest if you think a felony is being committed and the other person is armed, but this can go horribly wrong if you are not careful.
In conclusion, citizens’ arrests are possible in Alaska and in some circumstances can help prevent serious crimes or bring possible criminals to justice. However, anyone contemplating a citizen’s arrest should think very clearly before attempting it, otherwise it could backfire and end in serious repercussions for all involved.