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First of all, let me start by saying that nearly all lawyers and police agree that a citizen's arrest is a poor choice even when it is legal.

I can find a lot of resources on the legality of citizen's arrests among the various US states (most permit it, but many impose restrictions). Essentially all of these resources, however, assume that the potential citizen arrester is arresting for a state offense such as robbery, rape, or murder.

I'm curious if there is law on making a citizen's arrest for a purely Federal offense, such as immigration violations, filing a false Federal tax return, espionage, or committing treason against the United States.

Is there statutory or case law on whether a citizen's arrest may be made for conduct that is legal under the state law of the state in which the arrest is made but that violates Federal law?

Some ideas that I had:

  • A citizen's arrest may be made for a purely Federal offense, but the arrest itself must conform to the procedures required under state law for a citizen's arrest. For example, if Massachusetts requires a person performing a citizen's arrest to file Form 22-G, then a non-law enforcement officer performing a citizen's arrest in Boston of someone who has committed treason against the United States must still file Form 22-G even though treason against the United States is purely a Federal crime. If New Jersey requires a person performing a citizen's arrest to be over 21 years of age, then an 18-year old may not citizen's arrest someone that they just saw file a knowingly false Federal tax return because they must follow New Jersey state law on arrests even though the offense they want to arrest for is Federal.
  • A citizen's arrest for a Federal offense may be made pursuant to Federal citizen's arrest laws and procedures, regardless of whether the state in which the arrest takes place allows citizen's arrests for state law violations and what regulations, restrictions, or requirements they place on them. In other words, Federal citizen's arrests are entirely unrelated to state law citizen's arrests and operate under a completely different volume of law.
  • A citizen's arrest may not be made for a purely Federal offense anywhere in the US, even where a citizen's arrest for a state offense would be lawful and the arrest is made under the procedures otherwise required by state law. In other words, if the conduct in question violates Federal law, a citizen's arrest may not be made unless the conduct also violates applicable state law and the citizen's arrest would be deemed to be for the state law violation and not the Federal one.
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    Interesting question. A citizen's arrest statute is usually a defense to state false imprisonment or assault charges, so there's that, but worthy of thought before providing an answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 21, 2023 at 23:08

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