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What is a “Citizen’s Arrest” and How It May Lead to False Imprisonment If Performed Incorrectly

Our society promotes the idea of the “hero” – a woman or man who steps up courageously to help, save, or aid another person who is in trouble. Though not everyone is going to be a superhero, we see there is a push toward being a good citizen and a good Samaritan in the event of an emergency. For many, this is visualized as someone who will run after a mugger to help retrieve an old lady’s purse, or stepping in where there is an escalating situation between two people ready to fight. The idea of our common-day hero is exemplified in the idea of the “citizen’s arrest”.

What is a “Citizen’s Arrest”?

A citizen’s arrest is the common law notion of an every-day citizen, seeing another person committing a crime, and then attempting to catch the person and turn him/her into the police. In Florida, there are no laws that dictate the practice but in several cases, certain parameters have been put into place that detail how the practice can be pursued, and in what circumstances should a citizen not take the law into his/her own hands.

The parameters that have been vaguely indicated in past cases state that to make a citizen’s arrest, the person intending to make the arrest must:

  • Have been a first-person witness or reasonably believe that the person committed the crime. It is not permissible to make a citizen’s arrest if someone else told you that he/she committed a crime.
  • Determine that the crime committed was, in fact, a felony. Misdemeanors are generally not in the realm of citizen’s arrest. One of the situations cited where a person was able to make a citizen’s arrest for a misdemeanor was in the case where an employee caught a shoplifter and detained him/her until the police arrived.

Once a person has been “detained”, the person making the citizen’s arrest must tell the suspect that he or she is being detained until the police arrive. A citizen does not need to read Miranda rights to the detainee. The police, however, must be called immediately after the arrest.

What Not To Do in a Citizen’s Arrest

A person who is making a citizen’s arrest, however, may not injure the detainee or use excessive force. Also, the person should not detain the person for more than an unreasonable amount of time (usually about an hour) and should not use handcuffs or other types of restraints as the person making the citizen’s arrest may be arrested for false imprisonment if the detainee ultimately is found innocent of his/her crime.

The Felony of False Imprisonment in Florida

False imprisonment is the crime of restraining another person, without lawful authority to do so, and against his or her will. If a citizen’s arrest does not go correctly, the person who makes the citizen’s arrest may be charged with false imprisonment, which is a felony offense. Usually false imprisonment will be triggered where force or a threat of force is used, the person detained is moved to another location, the person is restrained by handcuffs or some other mechanism, and the person is held against his/her will for a long period of time, generally longer than an hour.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Making a citizen’s arrest is useful in situations where you are helping another person in a possibly dangerous or unlawful situation. However, a citizen’s arrest done incorrectly could lead to significant violations processed against you if you do not follow the parameters of a safe citizen’s arrest. It is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can advocate on your behalf and guide you through the criminal justice system. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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