When Are You Allowed to Make a Citizen’s Arrest?

The Michigan Citizen’s Arrest Law Explained

A number of cases have arisen recently in the state of Michigan that have raised questions about the existence and legitimacy of the ability for private citizens to be able to make a “citizen’s arrest.” In general, private citizens are not allowed to act like police and arrest people they believe need to be arrested. Michigan law, does however allow for a private citizen to make a citizen’s arrest in certain circumstances, they include:

• The ability to make an arrest for a felony committed in the person’s presence;
• The ability to make an arrest if the person has committed a felony outside of the person’s presence;
• The ability to assist a peace/police officer in making an arrest if the officer asks for help; and
• The ability to make an arrest if you are a merchant or agent of a merchant and stop someone to prevent them from committing a listed crime. Listed crimes include retail fraud in the first degree, and retail fraud in the second and third degree.

If the situation meets one of these conditions, then an arrest may be made by a private citizen any time of day or night under Michigan law. It is important to note that the above situations generally do not involve the ability to legally arrest someone for committing a misdemeanor offense, even if in your presence. If a misdemeanor crime is committed in your presence, your general legal recourse is to contact the police for assistance. If you have questions about Michigan’s citizen arrest law, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can best guide you.

What Can Happen if You Violate the Law

If you unlawfully arrest someone, then you are subject to a variety of criminal charges depending on the circumstances. At minimum, you may face charges related to:

• Impersonating a police officer: this is a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of up to 1 year in jail.
• Assault & Battery: this is a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of up to 93 days in jail. These penalties can increase if there are any injuries sustained or a weapon was used or threatened during the unlawful citizen’s arrest.
• Kidnapping: this is a felony charge that has the potential for up to life in prison upon conviction.

Michigan’s citizen’s arrest law is only to be used in very specific circumstances or it can very easily lead to criminal charges. Michigan law aims to make clear that the police and other governmental authorities are generally the only ones who are able to make arrests on other people. Unfortunately, the recent social climate in the United States has encouraged some people to try to take the law into their own hands, which can have disastrous results.

Michigan Court Opinions Regarding the Application of the Law

The Michigan Supreme Court has given guidance on a few situations describing the application of Michigan’s citizen’s arrest law. Important cases include:

• People v Couch, 436 Mich 414 (1990) – In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a private citizen is allowed to use deadly force to prevent a fleeing felon in certain circumstances. The deadly force must be necessary to combat deadly force from the felon or must be to prevent the felon from fleeing.
• People v Meyer, 424 Mich 143 (1985) – In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court held that police officers who make an arrest outside of their jurisdictions are considered private persons and are only able to make arrests under the citizen’s arrest law.
• People v Hamilton, 465 Mich 526 (2002) – In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court held that police officers who made an arrest outside of their jurisdiction for an operating while intoxicated charge were subject to criminal charges and civil liability.

The Michigan Supreme Court in these cases has made clear that even if you are a police officer in a certain jurisdiction, that license and authority does not extend to other jurisdictions and can result in both criminal charges and civil liability for officers who go outside of their legal bounds. The Supreme Court has also allowed for a “fleeing-felon” defense which can be used in certain scenarios. If you have further questions about Michigan’s citizen’s arrest law, then give us a call at Grabel & Associates so we can help.

Any Further Questions?

If you are facing criminal charges for an allegation of an unlawful citizen’s arrest, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We are standing by to help you now.

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