Citizen's Arrest Law & Legal Definition


A citizen is allowed to make an arrest in certain instances, as determined by state laws, which vary by state. Making a citizen's arrest maliciously or without reasonable basis in belief could lead to civil or criminal penalties. It is a violation of a suspect's civil rights to use excessive force, to torture, to hold in unsafe or cruel conditions or to invent a reason to arrest for the ulterior motive of settling a private score.

Because a person making a citizen’s arrest may be subjected to charges of impersonating police, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or wrongful arrest, especially if the wrong person is apprehended or a suspect's civil rights are violated, the following guidelines are suggested by law enforcement officials:

  1. Notify police upon observing a crime.
  2. Provide police with information to assist in identifying the violator.
  3. Sign the complaint form. (After this, most cases are concluded without your further involvement.)
  4. Appear in court when requested by the District Attorney's Office.