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Citizen's Arrests: What to Consider Before Rushing In

Creative Commons via Flickr
Scott Davidson (https://flic.kr/p/5H64X2)


Claudia Castillo, a civilian, recently made national headlines when she pulled over a speeding Miami-Dade police officer on the Dolphin Expressway. (See video below.)

Though she let the cop off with a warning, this brings up the subject of citizen’s arrests: how and when you should or can do it, and when you shouldn’t.

In Florida, you can place someone under citizen’s arrest if the person commits a felony or for misdemeanors that fall under “breach of peace.”

Fighting is an example of the latter. Kidnapping, rape and murder are felonies.

Essentially you would detain them and either phone 9-1-1 or have someone nearby call. You wouldn’t even have to witness the crime directly to make a citizen’s arrest. Probable cause would be sufficient.

You can also search someone and question them. That evidence would be admissible in court.

Tamara Rice Lave is an associate professor of law at the University of Miami.

She says that citizens should use extreme caution if deciding to detain someone. The subject could be armed. Also, there could be legal ramifications against you if he or she is innocent.

“I think people should be extremely cautious about trying to become a cop,” says Rice Lave. “If you’re stopping somebody because you think they’ve just committed a serious crime that person is likely to be dangerous themselves. Which is a good reason to have somebody that’s trained in handling people like that take over.”

It’s not required that you state that you’re making a citizen’s arrest, she says, but it could save your life. If the subject doesn’t know why you’re confining him, he may lash out.

Two questions you should always ask yourself, she says:

Does what you observe meet the level of seriousness that you’re allowed to make a citizen’s arrest?

And, if the crime didn’t happen in front of you, do you have a high enough level of belief that you’re just in arresting the subject?

If you violate that, you could be arrested yourself and/or sued civilly.

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