Can Anyone Just Make a Citizen’s Arrest?


It depends. 

First, a little history. The concept of citizen’s arrest is usually traced back to medieval Britain, where local sheriffs often relied on (and even encouraged) citizens to help maintain order and apprehend criminals. As the British explored and settled around the world, the citizen’s arrests came in handy in colonies that had little or no formal police forces and were far from the reach of the King’s justice system. 

Even after many of Britain’s colonies gained their independence and the wild frontiers became urban centers, DIY policing remained useful. Developing municipal police departments could only handle so many incidents without modern tools like patrol cars and hand-held radio technology. According to Violent Death in the City, a history of crime in 19th century Philadelphia, even with the establishment of the city’s first police detectives in the middle of the century (as late as 1898, there still were only 15 detectives in the police department, and none of them specialized in homicide or much else besides property crimes), private citizens continued to make arrests and even do detective work. Even Herman Webster Mudgett, a.k.a. H.H. Holmes, “perhaps the most celebrated mass murderer of the century,” was caught thanks largely to the work of Frank Geyer, a detective with the private security and detective agency Pinkerton Government Services.

By the end of the 1800s, American cities were becoming large and anonymous enough that everyday people were hesitant to intervene in other people's problems, and were growing dependent on police forces that were more institutionalized and expansive in their powers. Still, the concept of citizen’s arrest stuck around. 

Law of the Land

Today, in the United States, private citizens are still able to make arrests under certain conditions. Those conditions differ from state to state, but in many cases, you can make an arrest for 1) a misdemeanor offense committed or attempted in your presence (some jurisdictions specify that the offense has to constitute a “breach of the peace,” the definition for which varies) or 2) a felony offense that has been committed, whether in your presence or not. With a felony committed outside your presence, some jurisdictions specify that the crime must have actually happened, that you knew it happened, and that you have a reasonable suspicion about the identity of the perpetrator before taking action. If you don’t meet those criteria—if you thought a felony was committed and thought you knew who the perpetrator was, but no crime actually occurred, for example—but proceed with the arrest anyway, you open yourself up to a lawsuit in some places. 

Again, these rules differ from state to state and even between municipalities in the same state. Your mileage may vary, so check the local laws before you go and get your vigilante on.

Some other things to keep in mind:

- Some jurisdictions require certain procedural steps during a citizen’s arrest—for example, notifying the suspect that they are under arrest and identifying the crime for which they’re being arrested. In other places, you don’t have to notify a person that you’re arresting them if a “reasonable person in the suspect’s position” would know they are under arrest by your actions and the context. 

- When it comes to searching someone that you’ve arrested, many states allow you to seize any weapons in their possession and any evidence in plain view, but not conduct a search of their person. Some states grant exceptions for “merchant searches,” where a merchant who arrests a suspect for theft can make a limited search for stolen property in the person’s shopping bags, purse or other packages, but not their clothing. 

- Citizen’s arrests usually aren’t subject to the same requirements as an arrest made by a police officer. So, for example, you don’t need to read your arrestee their Miranda rights. 

- Using force during an arrest is tricky. Many states allow you to use the “amount of force that is reasonable and necessary” to make an arrest. The definition of “reasonable and necessary” will always depend on the circumstances of the arrest. Some states allow for the use of deadly force if the person making the arrest is faced with the threat of death or serious injury by immediate use of force (that is, someone is about to stab you, not just saying they’ll stab you). In some states, deadly force is also allowed in order to stop a fleeing suspect if reasonable attempts have already been made to restrain them. Crossing the line on the use of force obviously opens you up to serious legal and civil liability. 

WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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