The Daily Courier Logo
Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
2:32 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Yes, you can make citizen's arrests. But should you?

Adobe Stock

Anyone who has seen enough TV shows has seen a character make a citizen’s arrest.

In fact, the earliest version may have been on “The Andy Griffith Show” in the early 1960s, when goofy Gomer Pyle actually effected an arrest on Deputy Barney Fife.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the citizen’s arrest is a real, allowable legal action.

In Arizona, it’s governed by Arizona Revised Statues, notably sections 13-3884, 3889 and 3900.

There’s some legalese involved, but the basic concept is contained in 13-3884:

“A private person may make an arrest:

  1. When the person to be arrested has in his presence committed a misdemeanor amounting to a breach of the peace (which means, among other offenses, theft, assault, harassment, cruelty to animals and disorderly conduct), or a felony
  2. When a felony has been in fact committed and he has reasonable ground to believe that the person to be arrested has committed it.”

If you’re going to arrest someone, section 3889 says, you must “inform the person to be arrested of the intention to arrest him and the cause of the arrest,” unless he’s committing the crime at the time or is fleeing the scene, resists, or “when the giving of such information will imperil the arrest.”

But that’s not the end of your responsibility, of course. You’re then obligated to deliver your prisoner to a magistrate or a police officer “without unnecessary delay,” and, unless the officer can do it, make the complaint to the magistrate.

All these requirements make the process of arresting someone yourself a daunting proposition.

“Due to the liability involved and the dangers that are inherently involved with touching others, much less making arrests, (we) always recommend that citizens call the police,” Prescott Police Lead Police Officer David Fuller said.

Prescott Valley Police spokesman Jerry Ferguson said, “Citizens do better just being eyes and ears and being good witnesses.

“There might be a rare occasion in a felonious situation where it would be helpful for a citizen to make a citizen’s arrest,” he added.

Ferguson said police don’t often see a citizen’s arrest and don’t recommend you make one, but they will take them if “the citizen is insistent.”

The principle of the citizen’s arrest is used by retail store loss prevention officers to detain people they believe have stolen from the store, Fuller said.

In 2005, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the right of a civilian to arrest a driver for DUI when it refused to throw out an arrest made by a ranger in the San Xavier district of the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Even though he was not a sworn law enforcement officer, the ranger had the same rights as anyone else to make an arrest, the court stated.

Judge Joseph Howard, writing for the three-judge panel, offered a warning, though: if the arrest had been illegal, the citizen making it would have been subject to a lawsuit.

As a private citizen, you do have one advantage over the police if you make a citizen’s arrest: you don’t have to read the suspect his Miranda rights, because that rule applies only to law enforcement personnel.

Part two of this two-part series on citizen justice will examine DUIs — do you follow the car or not?