Trouble with the Citizen’s Arrest

Canada expanded its citizens arrest laws a few weeks ago.  Citizen’s arrests are extremely prone to causing lawsuits.  Citizens trying to do the right thing many times find themselves in court not as a witness, but as a defendant in a civil or even criminal case.  In court, it can be substantially easier to bring a private person’s credibility into question as opposed to a police officer.  However, a new Canadian law has made it a bit easier for people to make a citizen’s arrest without fear of repercussions.

Under Canada’s Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defense Act,  a Canadian can make a citizen’s arrest within a “reasonable amount” of time after they’ve witnessed a crime.  Previously, Canadian citizens were only able to make such an arrest when the suspect was caught red-handed.

However in Arizona, the simple act of pursing a suspected criminal could have catastrophic implications in court.  Not to mention that pursuit could lead to a dangerous altercation.

In Arizona, a private person can make an arrest when the person witnessed the misdemeanor or felony or, when a felony has been committed and the person has a reasonable belief that the person in question committed the crime.

The reasonable belief standard props up the Arizona law. However, when challenged, that standard is unlikely to survive in light of the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime.   There is no clear standard as to course of action is allowed in such a circumstance. Therefore, such situations are often left open to the views of a jury.

Regardless of the protection the law provides, stepping in to stop a criminal is almost never advisable unless it is an absolute necessity. But, if you do it in Canada at least you may get an apology from a very polite criminal.