I am curious about citizen's arrest, at least in how it applies in the U.S., particularly the recourse the arresting party has in case of resistance/evasion. Let's say you see an assault/battery take place, after which the perpetrator attempts to flee. Can a civilian apprehend them and detain them until law enforcement arrives?

Also interested in what constitutes a legitimate justification for such an action. Do you have a right to detain any individual until police arrives and what are repercussions for "false imprisonment".

Yesterday, I witnessed something that could be considered an assault in a major thoroughfare in a major U.S. city. A seeming minor but fully grown (probably 16-17) was riding around on a scooter in a square intimidating and harassing passerbys. At some point, he rides by an older guy and does something that looks like a punch in the shoulder. The old guy was okay but that still qualifies as an assault, no? Since there was no police officers around, could any citizen have arrested the kid?

1 Answer 1


If A reasonably suspects that B committed a felony, A may arrest B, which means that A may also use reasonable force to detain B. They can also arrest for a misdemeanor committed in their presence, if it constituted a breach of peace. It is, of course, up to A to be correct that the act is a felony or a breach of peace, and to know what is reasonable force. If your arrest is in fact not lawful, you may be sued (battery or false imprisonment) or prosecuted (battery or unlawful imprisonment).

Punching a person in the shoulder is the felony of battery, and direct observation creates highly reasonable suspicion. In such circumstances, anyone could have arrested the child. Unlike a police arrest, a citizen is not required to Mirandize an arrested suspect.

This memo summarizes citizens arrest law including case law for Washington state. The right to perform citizen's arrest is statutorily recognized as a defense under RCW 9A.16.020

The use, attempt, or offer to use force upon or toward the person of another is not unlawful in the following cases: ...(2) Whenever necessarily used by a person arresting one who has committed a felony and delivering him or her to a public officer competent to receive him or her into custody

  • This is wrong in the first sentence - only LEO can make an arrest based on a belief that a felony "has been" committed. Citizens can only make an arrest if a felony "is being" committed.
    – Dale M
    Sep 10, 2018 at 5:07
  • Simple battery (which punching someone in the shoulder would likely be) is not necessarily a felony.
    – D M
    Sep 25, 2019 at 22:50
  • @Dale RCW 9A.16.020 authorizes the use of force, and thus an arrest, Whenever necessarily used by a person arresting one who has committed a felony" It does not say anything about teh felony having taken place in the presence of the arresting person. However, if such an arrest is made upon suspicion, it may be a crime if the suspicion proves incorrect. So your statement is incorrect, at least in the state of Washington. Sep 21, 2021 at 14:47

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