Understanding Citizen’s Arrest Laws in Arizona

Feature Article: Navigating Citizen’s Arrest Laws in Arizona

A Citizen’s Arrest Gone Wrong

Imagine this scenario: You witness someone breaking into a car in broad daylight. You believe you have a responsibility to act, and so you make a citizen’s arrest. You apprehend the alleged thief and call the police. But when the police arrive, they arrest both of you. This may seem like an unlikely scenario, but it does happen. In Arizona, citizen’s arrest laws are complex and confusing. It’s important to understand what you can and cannot do when making a citizen’s arrest.

Understanding Citizen’s Arrest Laws in Arizona

To begin, let’s define what a citizen’s arrest is. A citizen’s arrest is an arrest made by a private citizen rather than a law enforcement officer. In Arizona, citizen’s arrests are authorized by statute. However, the law places strict limits on when and how a citizen may make an arrest. Under Arizona law, a private person may make an arrest for a public offense committed in their presence, or if they have probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and the person to be arrested has committed it. Note that this applies only to public offenses, not to private wrongs. It’s also important to note that the use of force is allowed only to the extent reasonably necessary to make the arrest. Excessive force is not authorized and can lead to an arrest for assault or even battery.

The Risks of Making a Citizen’s Arrest

As mentioned earlier, citizen’s arrests can lead to serious complications. If a private person uses excessive force, they could be criminally charged or sued civilly for damages. Alternatively, if the person making the arrest is wrong about the alleged crime, they could be sued for false arrest, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution. In addition, a citizen’s arrest can quickly escalate a situation into something dangerous. Criminals who are confronted may become hostile or violent, leading to injury or even death. Finally, if the perpetrator is actually a police officer carrying out their lawful duties, the person making the citizen’s arrest could find themselves in serious trouble. In some cases, citizens have been charged with assaulting an officer or interfering with the duties of an officer.

When to Make a Citizen’s Arrest

Given the risks involved, most experts agree that private citizens should avoid making arrests unless absolutely necessary. Instead, it’s usually better to call the police and let them handle the situation. However, there may be situations where a citizen’s arrest is necessary. For example, if a victim is being assaulted and there is no time to call for help, a citizen’s arrest may be the only option. Similarly, if a perpetrator is attempting to flee the scene of a crime, a citizen’s arrest may be necessary to prevent them from escaping. In any case, it’s important to understand the risks involved and to act judiciously.

Protecting Yourself When Making a Citizen’s Arrest

If you do find yourself in a situation where you feel compelled to make a citizen’s arrest, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. First, make sure you have a clear understanding of the situation. Use your best judgment to determine whether an arrest is necessary and whether you are capable of making it without undue risk to yourself or others. Second, ensure that you are following Arizona’s citizen’s arrest laws. Use only the amount of force necessary to make the arrest and avoid using deadly force unless you are in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. Finally, be prepared to cooperate with the police and explain your actions. If everything was done legally and within the bounds of the law, there should be no reason for concern.


In conclusion, citizen’s arrest laws in Arizona can be complex and confusing. While it’s important to act responsibly and protect the public, it’s equally important to protect yourself. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel compelled to make a citizen’s arrest, make sure you understand the risks involved and act carefully and judiciously. Citizen’s arrests can be dangerous, and mistakes can lead to serious consequences. However, if you do need to make a citizen’s arrest, following the law and using good judgment can help ensure a positive outcome. Arizona Criminal & Family Law-