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What is a Citizen’s Arrest in Colorado?

Posted on May 12, 2024

A citizen’s arrest refers to an arrest made by a private individual rather than by a law enforcement officer. In Colorado, as in many other states, a citizen’s arrest is legally recognized, allowing ordinary citizens to detain someone they suspect of committing a crime under certain conditions. 

Legal Basis for Citizen’s Arrest

The legal foundation for a citizen’s arrest in Colorado is established under Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) § 16-3-201, which states:

“A person who is not a peace officer may arrest another person when any crime has been or is being committed by the arrested person in the presence of the person making the arrest.” 

This statute permits a private person to arrest another if they witness a crime being committed or have reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed.

Conditions and Limitations

Immediate Presence

A citizen must directly witness the crime. This means that the individual making the arrest must see the offense happening in real-time or have probable cause to believe a crime is ongoing or has been committed.

Reasonable Grounds

This can include witnessing the crime or having sufficient evidence to suspect the individual.

Use of Force

The use of force in a citizen’s arrest is heavily regulated. A citizen can only use reasonable force necessary to detain the suspect. Excessive force can lead to legal repercussions, including charges of assault or battery.

Prompt Handover to Authorities

Once the arrest is made, the citizen is required to deliver the suspect to law enforcement as soon as possible. This ensures that proper legal procedures are followed and reduces the risk of unlawful detention.

Example of a Legal Citizen’s Arrest

Scenario: A retail store owner catches a person in the act of shoplifting. The individual is seen taking items off the shelves, concealing them, and attempting to leave the store without paying.

Citizen’s Arrest Justification:

  • Immediate Presence: The shop owner witnesses the theft as it happens.
  • Reasonable Grounds: The act of concealing items and attempting to leave without payment provides clear evidence of the crime.
  • Use of Force: The store owner detains the shoplifter by blocking their exit and holding them until the police arrive.
  • Prompt Handover: The shop owner immediately calls the police, who arrive shortly to take over the situation.

This scenario meets the legal criteria for a citizen’s arrest, as the crime was directly observed, and the suspect was detained using reasonable force and handed over to law enforcement promptly.

Legal Risks and Considerations

Performing a citizen’s arrest carries significant legal risks. Misjudging the situation or using excessive force can result in criminal charges against the person making the arrest. Additionally, wrongful detention could lead to civil lawsuits for false imprisonment or violation of civil rights. Therefore, it is crucial for citizens to be fully aware of their legal boundaries and to exercise caution when attempting to make an arrest.

Common Defenses to a Wrongful Citizen’s Arrest Charge

Several defenses can be used to counter allegations of an illegal citizen’s arrest in Colorado:

Acting out of Necessity

One defense is that the arrest was made out of necessity. This defense requires demonstrating that the citizen’s arrest was the only way to prevent greater harm. Evidence must show:

  • There was an imminent risk of harm not caused by you,
  • You acted to prevent that harm, and
  • No other legal options were available.

Self-Defense or Defense of Others

A citizen’s arrest can be justified if it was made in self-defense or to protect another person. To prove this, you must show:

  • You reasonably believed the individual was about to use unlawful force,
  • You used only the necessary amount of force to prevent that harm.

According to CRS 18-1-704:

“[A] person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose.”

Jurors consider the totality of circumstances to determine if the use of force was justified.

Acting Under Police Direction

If a police officer commands your assistance in making an arrest, you are protected under CRS 16-3-202. This statute grants you the same authority as the officer and immunity from criminal charges or civil lawsuits for actions taken at the officer’s direction.