Citizen’s Arrest and the Likelihood of False Imprisonment Charges

It is laudable, it sparks a feeling of accomplishment, and it is the foremost attribute of humanity: It is being a “HERO.” Our society’s fondness with the concept of heroism is very distinguishable. Many instances get media spotlight and thumbs up from social commenters. Heroic acts vary. It could be pulling someone from the smoking wreckage of an overturned car or spraying a gunman with pepper-spray and tackling him to the ground saving countless lives in the process. However, the bottom line is to be a good citizen and Good Samaritan if you are in a position to be of help in the event of an citizen's arrest is it legal or can it lead to felony false imprisonment charges? | Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. | Criminal Lawyeremergency. In the law, most of these acts fall under the purview of “citizen’s arrest.”

The Term “Citizen’s Arrest”

Citizen’s arrest, according to the law, refers to the act of a regular citizen intercepting another individual committing a crime, with the intention of catching the person and turning him or her to the police. Florida does not have any specific laws that dictate the practice. Nevertheless, guidelines and parameters do exist that detail how anyone should engage in the practice. Furthermore, these parameters also stipulate under what circumstances a citizen may not take the law into his or her own hands.

What is Acceptable in a Citizen’s Arrest

The individual intending to make a citizen’s arrest MUST:

  1. Have been a first-person witness of the crime or reasonably believe that the person he or she wishes to arrest committed the crime in question
    1. You may not pursue citizen’s arrest if someone else told you that the person you intend to arrest committed a crime
  2. Confirm that the crime committed was a felony.
    1. In general, citizen’s arrest may not be pursued if the offense is a misdemeanor
    2. Exceptions do exist. For example, it is permissible for an employee to detain a shoplifter until police officers arrived.
  3. Inform the suspect that he or she is being detained until the police arrive
    1. It is not necessary to read Miranda rights to the suspect/detainee
  4. Contact the police immediately after the arrest

What is Unacceptable in a Citizen’s Arrest

The individual intending to make a citizen’s arrest may NOT:

  1. Injure or use excessive force on the detainee
  2. Detain a person for more than an unreasonable amount of time (often one hour)
  3. Use handcuffs or other forms of restraints
    1. If you do use any of the aforementioned materials, you may be arrested for false imprisonment if at the end of proceedings, the court finds the detainee to be innocent of his or her crime

Florida False Imprisonment – Felony

False imprisonment refers to the crime of restraining another individual against his or her will, and without lawful authority to do so. Consequently, there is a thin line between engaging in a permissible citizen’s arrest and receiving felony charges for false imprisonment.

The usual triggers for false imprisonment include:

  • Use of threat of force or actual force
  • Use of restraint on the detainee
  • Moving the detainee to another location
  • Holding the detainee against his or her well for an extended period of time, usually for longer than an hour