Donna Anderson
June 19, 2013

It’s a tempting idea. Why not march into Washington, round up all the bad guys and make a citizen’s arrest? Take along a few friends and some handcuffs and exercise your rights as an American citizen? After all, it’s obvious Obama, Holder, Clinton, and a few dozen others have committed crimes, and they’ve jailed American citizens for far lesser crimes with a lot less proof. Now it’s their turn, right?

Citizen’s arrests are still legal and allowable in most states. However, if you’re planning to enact one it’s best to check your state’s laws, first, because they do vary from state to state and a few states don’t allow them at all.

But here’s a basic rundown of the rules:

A private person with no law enforcement authority may make a citizen’s arrest for a felony, a misdemeanor, or a “breach of peace,” but it’s important to note that generally there are no provisions for a citizen’s arrest that would require an investigation to prove a crime has been committed.

For example, if you find a robber in your home with all your worldly goods tied up in a pillowcase, and you hold him at gunpoint until the police arrive to arrest him, you’ve essentially made a citizen’s arrest and you’re well within your rights. In this case, you have proof a crime was committed because you caught the robber in the act.

You can also make a citizen’s arrest if the person admits to the felony or misdemeanor in your presence or if you have undeniable proof he committed the crime. For example, if you engraved your name and identification information on the back of your television and found it in some thug’s apartment, then you’d have grounds for a citizen’s arrest.

In cases involving felony charges, a felony must actually have been committed before you can make a legal citizen’s arrest, but you don’t have to actually witness the felony. For example, let’s say you own a convenience store and you have a security video that shows some gang members vandalizing your store late at night. If you know where these guys live and you want to go make a citizen’s arrest, you’d need to make sure the damages are actually high enough to constitute a felony, first, otherwise you’d be setting yourself up for false arrest because a felony had not been committed.

When it comes to arrests, private citizens don’t have the same protections law enforcement officials have. A police officer can make a mistake and, as long as it’s justified, it’s fine. If it’s a big mistake and someone gets sued, the department or jurisdiction takes care of it.

Here’s the best way to look at a citizen’s arrest: If it’s going to require any type of investigation to make it stick, don’t do it. Unless you witness the person committing the crime, the person admits to you that he committed the crime, and/or you have undeniable proof he committed the crime, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

Even then, performing a citizen’s arrest is always risky business. The person you intend to arrest may be armed and/or dangerous or, in the case of some of those White House officials you’re thinking about arresting, they might be surrounded by CIA agents.

If you have to wait too long for the police to arrive to take the criminal off your hands, you can even be charged with imprisonment because you’ve detained that thug.

You’re also setting yourself up for sexual assault charges if you frisk that thug, assault charges if you have to wrestle him to the ground or even if you use foul language, and you risk a crushing civil suit if anything goes wrong.

And something could go wrong. In April, Luis Ricardo Hernandez, 26, was charged with murder in the slaying of 36-year-old Christopher Soriano in San Jose, Calif. Hernandez was conducting a citizen’s arrest and when the suspect, Soriano, tried to flee, Hernandez shot him. Hernandez received a 4-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

So, yes, it’s tempting to march into Washington and start gathering up the vermin. But let’s face it – we all know who’d really end up in jail.

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