Yes, A Citizen's Arrest Is A Real Thing

Yes, A Citizen’s Arrest Is A Real Thing

by Jan 28, 2020

Every now and again on TV and in the movies, you’ll see a character (who is not a police officer) witness a crime and make a “citizen’s arrest.”

A citizen’s arrest is an arrest made by a citizen who has no official arrest authority because they are not a law enforcement officer or government agent. And believe it or not, making a citizen’s arrest is legal in California.

Making A Legal Citizen’s Arrest In CA

California law authorizes a citizen’s arrest only under certain circumstances. To make a lawful citizen’s arrest, the arresting individual must:

  1. Witness the perpetrator committing a misdemeanor in their presence…
  2. And/or witness a perpetrator commit a felony or have reasonable cause to believe they committed a felony.

A few examples of a lawful citizen’s arrest would be:

  • If you witness someone punch another person in a bar, unprovoked, you could place them under citizen’s arrest for assault.
  • If a prostitute solicits services on the street from you, you could place him or her under citizen’s arrest for solicitation.
  • If you see someone shoplift while you’re out shopping yourself, you could stop them and place them under citizen’s arrest for shoplifting.

Note: There are certain procedures California law recommends any individual attempting a citizen’s arrest follow. These procedures include:

  • Clearly inform the arrestee that they are under arrest
  • Communicate the reason for the arrest
  • Express the authority for making the arrest

You should exercise care if you decide to make an arrest. A wrongful arrest could lead to civil and/or criminal charges. Furthermore, attempting a citizen’s arrest could place you and/or others nearby in danger if the perpetrator is armed or becomes violent.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

3 + 7 =