Ever been involved in one? How to Perform a Citizen's Arrest and Be a Real Life Superhero Picture this: You're minding your own business when suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see someone snatch a purse and start running. Do you chase them down? Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn't. Legally, however, you can, and if you do, you can make a citizen's arrest—but it's good to know your rights first. Photo remixed from Alexander Farley. In reality, a citizen's arrest isn't as romantic as you probably picture, and it's not without danger, including the potential for physical harm and criminal charges. In fact, our advice would be to avoid making a citizen's arrest in almost all instances. But let's say through some strange twist of fate, you do end up in a situation in which a citizen's arrest is a good idea. It's important to know the rules of when and where you can do it, and they vary by country. In the United States, for instance, it's a state statute, so it changes from state to state, with North Carolina being the only state where you cannot make a citizen's arrest. To find out the rules of your state, search the US Government's database of laws for citizen's arrest and the state you're in. We spoke with a law enforcement official to get a better understanding of how a citizen's arrests works. They also add the disclaimer that in most situations it's recommended you do not intervene. When You Can Make a Citizen's Arrest The laws change depending on what state you're in, so it's a good idea to research your state or country's laws before attempting to make one. That said, in almost every state you can make a citizen's arrest when someone commits a felony. When someone commits a felony: Generally, it's best to stick with a felony you have witnessed personally, because you can usually only perform a citizen's arrest for a crime you see with your own eyes. Felonies include murder, aggravated assault, rape, vandalism of federal property, and more. In other words, these are situations you need to be very careful in. When someone commits a misdemeanor: This is where it gets tricky and where the example of a purse snatcher might get you in trouble. Some states allow citizens to arrest for a misdemeanor. In Colorado, for instance, a private citizen can make an arrest for any crime committed in their presence. However, in Michigan, you can only make an arrest on someone who has committed a felony. If you're not clear on whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor, you might want to stick with calling the police and hiding behind a trash can. It's not just people grabbing purses, shoplifters, or violent crimes you can make a citizen's arrest for. If your state allows misdemeanor arrests, you have options you might actually run into on a regular day. Some arrests you might not consider initially include: Drunk driving: States differ in their definition of drunk driving, but many only require a driver to be in a car, with the keys in the ignition. If you witness someone clearly intoxicated, this might be one of the safer citizen arrests you can make. Trespassing: If you witness someone breaking into a neighbor's home and can be certain they're not armed, you may be able to help prevent the theft from happening by holding them until the police arrive. Shoplifting: This is going to depend on the type of business, of course, but if you see someone stealing in a store, you can make a citizen's arrest. Just be certain they're stealing before doing it. Photo by Scott LaPierre. How to Make a Citizen's Arrest If you've come to the conclusion that you can legally make a citizen's arrest, actually making one is not difficult. In fact, all you need to do is proclaim you're doing it, as in, "I'm putting you under citizen's arrest and I have called the police." You should ask yourself some questions first: Am I putting myself in danger? Is it really imperative I act now instead of calling the police and letting them handle it? If I am putting myself in danger, is the payoff to keep other people safe worth it? Arresting someone verbally is rarely going to work in the real world. You may need to use force to detain a person. Most states allow you to do so using reasonable force, which means you can tackle someone who is running and then place them in a sleeper hold until the police arrive. Although legal if you witnessed the crime, it is often recommended by police departments that you do not intervene physically. This isn't just to protect you physically, it's because if you attack and detain someone wrongfully, you will be charged for a crime and possibly sued. The trick is to use the least amount of force necessary to catch and detain someone, but make certain you witnessed a crime before doing so. That said, if you need to use violence to detain someone, or even deadly force, many states allow it provided it is viewed as reasonable under the circumstances. This is likely not worth your time, but knowing the protection is there might help save you if you get in over your head. If You Can Leave It to the Police, You Should Most importantly, it's good to remember why citizen's arrests are in the law. The purpose, especially from a district attorney or police officer's point of view, is for citizens to quickly apprehend someone they're seeing commit a crime to avoid that person getting away. If you're witnessing a crime, but calling the police will still catch the perpetrator, you should leave it at that. If, however, they will get away and you feel comfortable intervening, be aware of your local laws before doing so.