In what sorts of situations am I legally allowed to make a citizen’s arrest?
Frankly, I come down on the side of just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Aside from obvious safety risks, making a citizen’s arrest could get you in trouble for false imprisonment. You could face civil damages if you restrain or confine a person and if you act without reason to believe the person committed an offense. “Probable cause” is for the police, not for ordinary citizens. Nonetheless, the law says you can play hero and detain someone if you have “reasonable grounds to believe that an offense other than an ordinance violation is being committed.” So it’s not as if you can apprehend the litterbug you spotted during your lunch hour. Keep in mind, a citizen’s arrest is truly justified only when the person you arrest is guilty of said crime. This is where discretion not only is the better part of valor but could also keep you from being sued.
Ken Levinson is a child injury lawyer at the Chicago injury law firm Joseph, Lichtenstein & Levinson. Send your legal queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.