Have You Thought About the Transition from Self Defense to Citizen's Arrest?


June 18, 2009, 11:54 AM
Occasionally we see a story with headlines along these lines: "Pistol-Wielding Granny Defends Home, Holds Intruder for Police." We talk a lot here about the legal standards relating to self-defense, but not so much about what you do with the bad guy if he surrenders to you.

It strikes me as something that's a little tricky, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. Most states permit the use of deadly force to defend yourself or another from death or serious bodily harm. Others adopt the right to use deadly force to defend against the commission of a "forcible felony" or otherwise confer the right to use deadly force in the face of certain criminal acts.

Where it gets dicey is in the situation where the bad guy has surrendered. He tries to mug you, you pull your gun, and he throws up his hands in surrender. What do you do then? There's a part of me that suggests it would be a good idea to tell the guy to "Run, as fast as you can!" But, there's another part of me that tells me that it would be good for society if this guy is arrested and jailed.

The problem is that you may be dealing with different legal standards telling you how much force you can use in detaining the bad guy. For instance, in defending yourself from possible death or serious bodily harm, you're likely to be permitted the use of "deadly force," but in executing a citizen's arrest, you may be held to the standard of using "justifiable force." Most jurisdictions prohibit the use of "unnecessary force" in a citizen's arrest.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: You've got the bad guy at a gunpoint. You've satisfied the requirements of a citizens arrest (e.g., you saw a felony committed in your presence and you've told the guy he's under citizen's arrest). He gets nervous and decides to try to flee . . .

What do you do then?

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June 18, 2009, 12:06 PM
Very good post, and excellent questions indeed.

Hope I'm never faced with them.

Everything I've seen, and all legal advice I've gotten, indicate that there's a great risk of civil liability involved in a citizen's arrest.

What to do if you've witnessed a felony, arrested the perp, and he decides to flee? The state laws vary. In New York, it appears that you can shoot (depending on the kind of felony). In most states, not so.

If a guy throws up his hands? I'd wait for the police, not arrest him, and take precautions to not be shot buy the police myself.

One other risk: you've got the guy at gunpoint (which begs the question of what you would do with the gun) and the getaway driver comes around to see what's causing the delay and shoots you.

I think I prefer that they leave.

June 18, 2009, 12:22 PM
Unless he is fleeing directly towards you, you let him go... and be a good witness.

June 18, 2009, 12:40 PM
Your cell phone is a better weapon than your gun in many cases. Use it and the stuff between your ears before the stuff stacked in the magazine. If he has surrendered, wait for the calvary, if he runs, call the calvary.

June 18, 2009, 12:44 PM
Good thread indeed! I’ve wondered things as such myself – Any input on if you were somehow able to handcuff the bad guy?

June 18, 2009, 12:55 PM
Any input on if you were somehow able to handcuff the bad guy?

My advice is to not attempt to handcuff someone unless you are trained and have backup. The police are trained and paid to handcuff people, it is a very dangerous moment for anyone to handcuff another person.

June 18, 2009, 01:26 PM
If it was a felony that you witnessed, you can do a citizen's arrest and hold him there however you want, in a reasonable manner (so say, a security guard could handcuff him if he wants to).

If he runs away, well, not much you do then I suppose. As has been said, some states allow for force against fleeing felons, but I wouldn't depend on that.

It's always possible (and likely) the felon is lunging for something he hid behind another object... and not really running away. You'll have to use your best judgment in these cases.

June 18, 2009, 01:32 PM
As an old ex cop I am not arresting anyone. If they need shot I will shoot them. If they dont need shot they are free to leave and the guys with backup can deal with them . I am a private citizen with a pistol now and under exactly the same obligation to " arrest " as the police are to protect me from attack .

Frank Ettin
June 18, 2009, 01:52 PM
I wouldn't worry about trying a citizens arrest. I'll defend myself and family as necessary, and it the threat ends and the BG takes a powder, so be it. If the BG chooses to stay until the cops arrive, I'll watch over him to make sure he doesn't get into any mischief.

June 18, 2009, 03:21 PM
MHO, you give verbal commands to stop and get on the ground immediately during a SD situation. If they continue assault, shoot them. If they run away, let them go. If they freeze in place, then hold them there until the police arrive. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving a command for the perp to stay, freeze, or to get on the ground. Enforcing that command if they flee is VERY tricky. So tricky that I can't think of many situations that I would attempt to hold them by force. Better to get a good description and let them flee.

YMMV, but this is my opinion.

June 18, 2009, 05:47 PM
My advice is to not attempt to handcuff someone unless you are trained and have backup. The police are trained and paid to handcuff people, it is a very dangerous moment for anyone to handcuff another person.

+1 That's what I figured; always something I had thought about if that situation were ever present....


June 18, 2009, 06:48 PM
Schofield3: do you make it a habit to carry handcuffs with you?

If you do, you might re-think that--it makes you look like a vigilante. You may be the most upstanding man in the world, but think about how a prosecutor or plaintiff's attorney will present it to the jury.

If not, how would you be "somehow able" to 'cuff him if you don't have handcuffs to start with?

June 18, 2009, 07:28 PM
Well, hopefully in 2009 you have some sort of phone on you, so you call police while keeping your gun trained on them in case they change their mind.

Cuffs are for cops. I'm not a cop, nor do I play one on TV.

June 18, 2009, 07:33 PM
Yup. Carrying cuffs isn't illegal, but there's not a single cop who won't think you're either some vigilante-wannabe or more likely some sort of pervert for handcuffs women or children and goes to commit other crimes.

I absolutely agree that you should not attempt to cuff someone if you're not a LEO. There's a specific way to cuff someone (to avoid injury and minimize resistance possibilities) and it is indeed one of the most dangerous moments when approaching a suspect. Things can go wrong very quickly at that moment.

June 18, 2009, 07:57 PM
It helps to have a good "riot act" prepared for these situations. You don't want to make the guy any more afraid than he already is and think he might as well risk running for it because he thinks you're going to shoot him anyway. You don't have to be Billy Bada**.

Something like, "I am just sooooo nervous right now that if you were to even flinch and startle me I'm pretty sure this gun would go off and blow your head off. You need to lay right there and cover your eyes and be real still so we don't have any accidents. OK?"

June 18, 2009, 09:30 PM
handcuff the bad guy?Oh HELL NO!
If a threat surrenders and gets on the ground "spread-eagle", great ... I'll call for help, describe myself, and take every precaution possible to not get shot by the responding officers. I'm liking nitetrane98's idea of informing the surrendered threat of the volatility of the situation, in the case of witnesses, I plan on drafting a few to call for help while I worry about maintaining control ... I'm not thrilled with the prospect of arguing with a 911 operator while holding a pistol.
If they make a run for it, I'll do pretty much the same, minus the worries about holding a pistol and phone simultaneously.

June 20, 2009, 08:48 AM
It is not legal in North Carolina to perform a citizen's arrest even though it was common on a popular tv show based around a small NC town.

June 20, 2009, 08:57 AM
Citizen's arrest is legal in MI for felonies or aiding an officer.

I was in cop school and was fully trained to arrest, etc. I do not carry cuffs but if I had to cuff someone, I wouldn't hesitate (say I help a cop who is out of breath and he tosses me cuffs to control the suspect while he gathers himself enough to take over-yes this happened to me).

Anyways, in my opinion, the best thing to do is prone the suspect out, palms up and stand behind them out of their view. A second best is have them get on their knees, cross their ankles and sit on their feet, then hands on their head interlaced fingers. Preferable to put them close to a barrier such as a pole, car, wall, etc so if they try to get up, they have to move laterally or backwards first, which buys you time to react and regain control.

Art Eatman
June 20, 2009, 01:17 PM
Aside from the "What if?" part of the deal, I'd suggest reading what your own state law is. No part of self defense is any sort of trivial issue; same for such things as holding a bad guy whether or not it could be called a citizen's arrest.

Heck, ask a prosecuting attorney...

Jamie C.
June 20, 2009, 04:59 PM
I just can't imagine a true self-defense situation resulting in an arrest or detainment of the person, by me.

Either the person will be long gone, once the dust settles and the police arrive, or they will be in no condition to go anywhere or to cause any further problem. I don't believe there will be any middle ground.

Still, I've been wrong before, and I do still have a set of 'cuffs from when I worked L.E.

They haven't been used in about a decade now, but I know where they are. The key for 'em too. ;)

Honestly though, a mop and a bucket of soapy water will probably be more useful here, after any sort of home invasion attempt, due to the number, size, and disposition of my dogs alone...


Jeff White
June 20, 2009, 05:21 PM
The first thing you need to do is know the law as it pertains to a citizens arrest where you are at before you attempt such a thing. What's legal in one state may get you arrested in another.

I don't know of any state that permits citizens arrest that provides you with the same civil tort immunity that a sworn peace officer has. So you make any citizen's arrest at your peril.

What's the court standard for reasonable use of force in your area? What training have you had in the use force when making an arrest?

Police officers and departments are sued all the time for excessive use of force. How do you plan to defend yourself from that?

If the subject surrenders and meekly waits for the police to arrive, fine. If he tries to run, you are opening up a huge can of worms if you attempt to detain him.

June 20, 2009, 05:23 PM
Arrest by private person. Montana law allows a citizen to hold for law enforcement a person believed to have committed a crime. This is called a "citizen's arrest." However and curiously, Montana law did not authorize ANY use of force to restrain a person placed under citizen's arrest. If the person arrested wished to just walk away, there's was no legal way to detain them. If the citizen used any force, the citizen could have been prosecuted for assault or illegal restraint, or sued civilly.

Section 12 of HB228 authorizes a person making a citizen's arrest to use reasonable force to detain the person arrested until law enforcement can arrive. It authorizes lethal force, such as a firearm, only under laws already in place for use of lethal force in Title 45. This cures another void in Montana law.

HB228 Is now law in MT :D

June 21, 2009, 09:45 PM
If it was me, I would tell him I'd shoot him if he fled.

If he really fled, I'd let him go.

I'm not the cops. If he decides to stay, good. If he calls my bluff, oh well.

Priority 1: Don't get mugged/shot/robbed/kidnapped/etc
Priority 2: Don't get prosecuted for playing a triggerhappy wannabe cop
Priority 3: Put the bad guy in jail.

Pretty simple.

June 22, 2009, 11:38 AM
If not, how would you be "somehow able" to 'cuff him if you don't have handcuffs to start with?

I don't carry around handcuffs, but I was thinking along the lines of a home invasion, where if the situation occurred that the bg surrendered and you had them at gun point would you ever consider cuffing them….
I still agree that it's a bad idea overall...

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