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Citizen’s Arrests in Utah

By August 18, 2014Criminal Defense

I’m not a police officer – could I actually arrest someone?

Usually when I think of a citizen’s arrest, I think about those bad movies or comedy skits where some unlikeable gomer (think Dwight Schrute) makes a citizen’s arrest and the arrestee resists and some sort of ridiculous interaction ensues.  And since bad movies were my source of information, I always thought that a citizen’s arrest was something that may have existed sometime in the past, but didn’t actually exist anymore….I was wrong.

Utah code lays out when a private person may arrest another:citizensarrest

1)     When the crime was committed (or attempted) in the citizen’s presence, OR

2)     When the citizen has “reasonable cause” that the arrestee has committed a felony, whether or not it was committed in the person’s presence.

This is amazing to me.  These two situations happen all the time.  Frankly, I don’t know why this hasn’t caught on.  Can you imagine how much fun it would be to arrest all the people who drive slow in the fast lane or let their dogs poop on your lawn?  Or for those who are service-minded, you could go to concerts with a bag of zip ties to catch all those people smokin’ that wacky tobacky.  You could, if you wanted to, arrest like 150 people for traffic violations on your way to work.  Then again, I guess I’m just lucky none of my siblings or college roommates arrested me for domestic violence whenever I tried to wrestle with them in the living room.  But really, any crime committed or attempted in your presence?  Or reasonable cause (even less than 50% certainty!) that someone has committed a felony, whether or not in your presence?  Amazing.

You should know, however, that being a pioneer in the citizen’s arrest movement may come with certain costs.  For example, you will need to spend a lot of time educating the public about your newly-discovered authority.  And you may have to sacrifice personal or family time when you are faced with blatant traffic or disorderly conduct violations.  Also, you will probably lose all your friends…and get beat up…and get yourself arrested…and get sued.  But just remember that every courageous pioneer faces challenges in the beginning!

So, if you decide to take the step to be a citizen enforcer (or if you really, truly, are forced to stop someone from hurting someone else), you should know what the law requires you to do while making the arrest:

  • First, you must inform the person you are arresting of 1) your intent to effect a citizen’s arrest 2) your reason for arresting him, and 3) your authority to arrest.  So say something like, “Pursuant to Utah Code, section 77 dash 7, I am arresting you for driving while ill or fatigued (yes, it’s a crime).”
  • Second, you cannot use “more restraint than is necessary” to arrest or detain the person.
  • Third, you must take the arrested person to the judge in the district court or justice court in the city or county where the offense occurred.

Simple enough.  And interestingly, the police are supposed to do these same things, but often don’t.  You should also be aware that if you detain someone “without the authority of law,” then you could get arrested for unlawful detention, or if the police really don’t like you, kidnapping. But don’t let that stop you.

Ever witness a crime (no matter how small) that made you long to evoke your right to arrest another person?  Or better yet, have you ever actually made a citizen’s arrest? Share your story in a comment below!

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