Better than the real thing?

This lovely story about a man who not only impersonated a cop, but created a facsimile of a police station in which to interrogate suspects he apprehended, got me to thinking (apparently it takes a lot these days): What, exactly, are the limits of citizen law enforcement? I recall be fascinated by the idea of a citizen’s arrest as a child, and little investigation revealed the following. I’d be curious to know if any of you out there have first-hand experience with it.

According to the iWisdom aggregator, all states, except for North Carolina, allow citizens to make an arrest if they witness a felony, and the practice is allowed in most of Europe as well. Citizens’ arrests are distinct from police arrests in some interesting ways. They are not, for example, subject to the same procedural restrictions (indeed, abiding by Miranda requirements might get a citizen in trouble for impersonating a police officer). Evidence obtained during illegal citizen arrests and through warrantless searches and seizures by citizens are admissible. The apprehended suspect might bring a private claim after a mistake, but a mistaken arrest itself wouldn’t provide basis for a claim so long as it was reasonable, didn’t involve excessive force, etc. (Add a hurricane and some guns, though, and the definition of arrest can get a little, well, stretchy.)

In any case, I’m glad to see I don’t need any special training to for this kind of thing…I’m off to fight crime!

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2 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Note, though, that if you’re wrong you’ll probably be liable for false imprisonment, and that you don’t have the authority to keep anyone who just says “fuck you” and leaves when you place them under citizen’s arrest- there’s no crime of resisting citizen’s arrest. It’s generally a pretty bad idea to try it and not encouraged by the police.

  2. Frank says:

    Fascinating issue. I think there are some interesting Fourth Amendment cases on whether you can create probable cause for certain searches if you ask for extensive authentication of someone who, say, pounds on your door and days “Open up–police!”