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Citizen’s Arrest

A popular trope in action movies is when a protagonist takes down the bad guy, arrests him and brings him to justice. In most of these cases, unfortunately, our hero would likely be responsible for felony assault, endangerment, possible impersonation of a police officer and more.

The truth is, “citizen’s arrests” are legally complex. We’ll go over what constitutes a citizen’s arrest, when it is acceptable to restrain a person and what the ramifications of an improper citizen’s arrest may be.

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 What is a Citizen’s Arrest?

The term “citizen’s arrest” refers to when a regular person, such as a civilian, restrains another person against their will to aid in the stopping of a crime. This can include the use of physical force or restraint to a reasonable measure.

Citizen’s Arrests are outlined in CRS Section § 18-1-707(5) and 18-1-707(7).

You must have clear and immediate evidence that the person is committing a crime, is about to commit a crime or has just committed a crime.

There are two scenarios in which it is appropriate for a person to use force on another under Colorado law:

As a directive from a uniformed officer

In rare cases, a police officer may ask for help restraining a prisoner. This may be because there are multiple prisoners or because the officer needs help restraining the current prisoner. Another example is the classic “Stop that thief!” Under Colorado law, if an officer yells some variation of this, it may legally be construed as a directive, and appropriate force may be authorized on the part of civilians.

(5) Except as provided in subsection (6) of this section, a person who has been directed by a peace officer to assist him to effect an arrest or to prevent an escape from custody is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that force to be necessary to carry out the peace officer’s direction, unless he knows that the arrest or prospective arrest is not authorized.

To prevent a crime from occurring

It may be appropriate it many circumstances to use force to prevent the committal of a crime.

(7) A private person acting on his own account is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to effect an arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person who has committed an offense in his presence;  but he is justified in using deadly physical force for the purpose only when he reasonably believes it necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.

Some examples include:

  1. A robbery
  2. An assault
  3. A shooting

Let’s go over the above circumstances. In a robbery, you may be authorized to detain the would-be robber at gunpoint if they are also brandishing a weapon. It would then be your responsibility to care for the robber if he is shot, inform the police immediately, and follow all instructions to the letter.

Assaults happen often at bars, night clubs and other places where alcohol is frequent. Bouncers routinely must break up fights and potentially restrain one or both of the parties if necessary. Even if the bouncer doesn’t step in, it is well within a person’s rights to restrain their attacker and wait for the police to arrive.

Finally, in the case of a shooting, almost all force is authorized to prevent the further loss of life. However, if the shooter is restrained, then the arresting person has an obligation to use only the amount of force necessary. It is illegal to intentionally injure a person under your custody while waiting for law enforcement, regardless of the circumstances.

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Necessary Force

If a person has been directed to assist a police officer, or if that person is conducting a citizen’s arrest to stop a crime, then they are required to use only the amount of force necessary to restrain the person.

Failing to do so may result in a civil lawsuit. While “Good Samaritan” laws typically protect those looking help, the court may find that the defendant knowingly used excessive force by tackling or choking a suspect when doing so was unnecessary.

Additionally, restraining a person when it is unnecessary may result in charges like false imprisonment or assault. It is generally acceptable to restrain a person only if they pose a danger to others or themselves, or if they refuse to cooperate.

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How Do I Conduct a Citizen’s Arrest?

In most cases, you don’t. Citizen’s arrests are messy, legally complicated, and often dangerous. However, if you must conduct an arrest, this is what to expect, and what to do:

  1. Assess the situation. Remember, you must have absolute evidence that a person is doing something wrong, or is about to. Also remember that arrests can often turn violent. It may often be better to let a robber walk out of a gas station than risk a confrontation that may result in a bystander getting shot by accident.
  2. Inform the suspect. In some cases, you may be able to simply ask the subject to wait for law enforcement. If the person is attempting to leave and has not provided any type of identifying information, you may be able to conduct an arrest.
  3. Restraint. If you must restrain the subject, you must use the minimum amount of force. Tackling and fighting on hard surfaces can often result in head trauma and broken bones. Deadly force is almost never authorized, unless another person’s life is critically and obviously in danger.
  4. Contact law enforcement. If you have restrained the suspect, have another person (or yourself) call law enforcement. Inform them what happened, and ask for directions.
  5. Hand over the suspect. Once law enforcement arrives, you will need to hand over the suspect.
  6. Documentation and witness statements. You and all other witnesses will need to turn over all evidence of the encounter, including videos and photographs, and provide witness statements. At this point, it is a good idea to contact your lawyer. Depending on what you say and the context of the situation, the police may believe you acted in excess of required force or that your actions were not justified. If they don’t press a lawsuit, the suspect might.

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Civil Suits

It is not uncommon for perpetrators of crime to sue for damages in civil court. Even if you believe your arrest was completely justified and that you used the minimum amount of force, the suspect may seek compensation in civil court. This may result in a long, drawn out trial where you will be forced to justify your actions completely.

However, if you documented the encounter well and are able to contact multiple witnesses from the incident, you should have access to the state’s “Good Samaritan” law – this clause essentially provides citizens some leeway for harm caused as a result of acting in good faith. A common example of the good Samaritan clause is in CPR – rib injuries are common during CPR, but the law protects you when attempting to justifiably save someone’s life.

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Contact a Citizen’s Arrest Attorney in Denver, Colorado

As stated previously, Citizen’s Arrests are complicated. While the law grants leniency in some areas and empowers citizens to protect their community in others, the fact is that legal exceptions remain a gray area of operation, and you may face charges including assault or false imprisonment if you attempt a citizen’s arrest without a directive.

The Law Office of Matthew Martin is prepared to assist those who have just been part of a citizen’s arrest. Whether you were directed by an officer or have just conducted a citizen’s arrest yourself, the best practice is to consult a lawyer. Matthew Martin will help you collect all of the related evidence, contact witnesses and prepare a case in the case that you charged by the District Attorney or served a civil case.

Call now at (303) 725-0017 to set up your first consultation free of charge.

Matthew Martin accepts clients throughout the greater Denver area and surrounding counties including Douglas County, Broomfield County, Jefferson County, Adams County, and Arapahoe County.

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