Citizen's arrests are not common, but they're technically legal. One private citizen is allowed to detain another for the authorities in very specific situations. Some of the same regulations and constitutional requirements that police officers are bound by don't always apply to citizens, but that doesn't mean there are no rules at all. A number of them are outlined below.

Excessive Force

Police officers are not allowed to use excessive force when making arrests, and the same goes for private citizens. This doesn't mean no force can be used, but there has to be a reason for it and citizens must show restraint when force isn't needed. Going too far -- shooting an unarmed person who is not a threat to keep him or her from fleeing, for instance -- could bring about criminal and civil charges, even when the arrest itself was merited.


Another stipulation is that citizen's arrests cannot be made for misdemeanors in the vast majority of cases. One exception to this rule is when there's a breach of the peace. In general, though, these arrests can only be made in felony cases.

Actual Occurrence

A citizen also can't make an arrest based merely on speculation or the belief that the other person committed a crime. That crime must already have happened or the person must have been in the process of committing it. If citizens believe that someone is going to commit a crime at a later date or are unsure if a crime has taken place, they should contact the authorities. Otherwise, if it turns out that no crime occurred, the arresting citizen could then land in legal trouble for falsely imprisoning someone else who did nothing wrong.

Legal Rights

There are a lot of myths out there about citizen's arrests, often perpetuated by TV shows, movies and other forms of entertainment. It's critical to understand the realities of this process, what rights you and the other party have, and what rules must be followed. Those who have been arrested or detained will absolutely want to know their legal options, especially if they believe it was an illegal arrest or that they were detained without a valid reason.