California Citizen’s Arrest Laws

Can I Make A Citizen’s Arrest in California?

In California, Penal Code 837 authorizes a citizen to make an arrest a citizen’s arrest. One can make a citizen’s arrest if:

  1. They witness a misdemeanor offense take place in their presence.
  2. They witness a felony take place in their presence.
  3. They have reasonable cause for believing that the person committed a felony even if they did not actually witness it.

One can make a citizen’s arrest either by way of a police officer or by detaining a suspect temporarily until the authorities arrive. Even though the law authorizes a private person’s arrest, it’s almost never a good idea to try to do it by yourself. It’s always better to wait for the authorities to arrive.

If you take the law into your own hands, the person you’re trying to detain will often fight back and one or both of you may get hurt and if you make a wrongful arrest or use excessive force you could face a civil lawsuit or even criminal charges.

While we all want dangerous people brought to justice, sometimes making citizen’s arrest can be the right thing to do only in situations where these three conditions are met:

  1. You know for a fact that the person has committed a serious crime and poses a continuing danger to the public such as a child molester or a terrorist.
  2. The person will likely be gone before authorities can be summoned to the location.
  3. You are confident that you have the ability to restrain the person and overcome any resistance.

At the end of the day, whether to make a private person’s arrest under Penal Code 837 is a judgment call. Summoning the cops, however, is almost always better than trying to take the law into your own hands.

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