A citizen’s arrest

As is the norm, as I was leaving work on Friday I got caught in a long meandering conversation with co-workers that ended with this question: “Is a citizen’s arrest legal in CT?”

As is my wont, I was immediately contrarian and emphatically said “No!” As often happens in such situations, I was not even wrong.

I should’ve looked at C.G.S. 53a-22(f) before opening my gab. This statute provides:

(f) A private person acting on his or her own account is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person whom he or she reasonably believes to have committed an offense and who in fact has committed such offense; but he or she is not justified in using deadly physical force in such circumstances, except in defense of person as prescribed in section 53a-19.

The implication thus is that a private person has the authority to effect an arrest. In addition, in CT, a private citizen need not be present when the felony is committed in order to effectuate a citizen’s arrest. In State v. Smith, the Appellate Court considered this question:

According to the plain language of the statute, a private citizen may use reasonable force in arresting an individual whom he reasonably believes has committed an offense. If the arrested individual did not commit an offense, however, regardless of the reasonableness of the private citizen’s belief, the latter is not justified in making a citizen’s arrest. There is no requirement in ยง 53a-22 that the citizen making the arrest must also have witnessed the commission of the offense or have come upon the scene shortly after its occurrence, 16 nor has our Supreme Court put such a gloss on the statute.

Perhaps you will be just as surprised as I was to also learn that all but one state in these United States provides for a citizen’s arrest (the lone dissenter being North Carolina).

So there you have it. Go forth and arrest.

6 thoughts on “A citizen’s arrest

  1. Bill Thompson

    North Carolina doesn’t recognize citizen’s arrest? I beg to differ as I distinctly recall an episode of the Andy Griffith Show in which Gomer Pyle made such an arrest in the fair city of Mayberry, NC…

    Reply
  2. Jdog

    Well, yeah, there apparently is a citizens arrest statute in CT, but note that even if the citizen is utterly reasonable in believing that the arrestee has committed a felony, if it turns out that he’s wrong, there’s no protection, even if he uses only “reasonable” force.

    As a first approximation, you were, it seems to this amateur, more or less right. A right to perform a citizens arrest where the legality depends on a bunch of decisions that a bunch of other folks make days, weeks, months or years later isn’t much of a right, after all.

    In good news, the statute doesn’t seem to confer any obligation on somebody to make a citizens arrest and then roll the dice and see if the arrestee has enough hit points to avoid the conviction.

    That said, in practice, citizens arrest is very common in most places — it’s what non-cop security guards/store owners do when they arrest somebody who they believe to be a shoplifter, and turn him/her over to the cops. As is usually the case: it’s the social expectations that protect the person performing the citizens arrest, not the statutes.

    Reply
    1. Gideon Post author

      No, I thought about that, but that’s only in cases in which force is actually used. There may be a plethora of cases where there is no force used or the force used is absolutely minimal.

      The statute describes a more realistic scenario that perhaps what one might envision with a “citizen’s arrest”. For example, I doubt people go about saying “I’m making a citizen’s arrest!” and then formally arresting the person. It’s more of a detaining that occurs in real life.

      The store owner/mall cop scenario raises some interesting questions: what if they detain someone for something they believe to be reasonable but it is quickly discovered that they were wrong. The mall cop might very well be guilty of unlawful restraint.

      Reply

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