The Rules of Citizen’s Arrest

The State of Indiana allows for the possibility of a citizen’s arrest, but few people have much experience with this. As the law is currently written, you’re allowed to arrest any other person in the following three scenarios:

  • if the other person has committed a felony in your presence;
  • if a felony has been committed and you have probable cause to believe that the other person committed that felony; or
  • if a misdemeanor involving a breach of the peace is being committed and your presence and the arrest are both necessary to prevent the continued of the breach of the peace.

If you see someone commit a felony, you’re statutorily-empowered to detain that person and call the police. Likewise if you didn’t actually witness the felony, but you have probable cause to believe that so-and-so did it. Felonies are serious offenses, and when felonies are involved, the concerned citizen is on relatively firm ground.

Whoa, whoa, whoa—dude! I’m pretty sure that’s a felony.

The third citizen’s arrest scenario involves breach of the peace, which is a lawyerly way of referring to a ruckus or public disturbance. Not every commotion violates the law, of course, and the Indiana Supreme Court has held that violence, either actual or threatened, is an essential element of breaching the peace. In other words, the peace cannot legally be breached without at least a threat of physical force.

This seems like as good a time as any to point out that just because you’re permitted to do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Police officers have received training on the apprehension and detention of suspects, but you, as a private citizen, have not. Attempting to arrest an alleged felon is not necessarily risk-free. Proceed with caution.

It’s also worth noting that when it comes to misdemeanors, you cannot use force to detain the person. If you make a citizen’s arrest on someone who’s only suspected of a misdemeanor crime, you’re opening yourself up to liability for false imprisonment. Because false imprisonment starts as a Level 6 felony, your victim would then be justified in turning the tables and performing a citizen’s arrest on you

Assuming your citizen’s arrest has gone well, you’re also obligated to notify law enforcement “as soon as practical” and deliver your suspect into their custody. This is a pretty sweet deal for them, as the officer gets formal credit for the collar, but no responsibility for any mistakes you may have made during the course of your citizen’s arrest.

Bottom line: The concept of a citizen’s arrest was never meant to be used regularly, and you shouldn’t look at it as your chance to show off your heroic qualities. The Indiana Supreme Court has long recognized that anyone who attempts a citizen’s arrest does so “at his own peril.”

Whenever possible, live and let live. If you have to get involved, please be careful. If you have legal questions, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642, and remember—always plead the 5th!