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Understanding the Law

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: April 30, 1999
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Qs and As on Citizen's Arrest
Related Links
Definition of Citizen's Arrest from Moot Court Study Guide

Citzen's Arrest
Questions to Dear Habermas

At 09:37 AM 4/30/1999, a member of the Dear Habermas community wrote:

"I read the web page regarding citizen's arrest. I have two questions on this subject. Does a "public offense" include misdemeanors, infractions, or municipal code violations? When a citizen makes an arrest what process should be followed to get the arrestee into the justice system? If you can help with answers or point me to a source for these answers, I would be greatly appreciative."

San Diego, CA

Dear San Diego:

I will answer your questions as a teacher who deals with "citizen's arrest" in a moot court class. For accurate and current information on which you can rely legally, consult the California Penal Code, Citizen's Arrest. You might also find valuable information through your local police department and its community policing staff, through Neighborhood Watch, and through other citizen's groups devoted to building safe local communities.

The way you get the arrestee into the justice system is by calling the police. Upon a citizen's arrest in which you can give reasonable justification for the arrest, police will take the arrestee into custody depending on the situation, issue a citation to the arrestee. They'll take it from there, including making arrangements for you as a witness, if that is appropriate.

Bear in mind that in California a citizen's arrest does not give the right to search, except for a cursory pat down if there is reasonable justification for concern about danger from a weapon. Leave the searching for the police.

Sorry, I don't have the Penal Code at hand. What you are asking about what is included as a public offense is best answered by looking up the California Penal Code (all courts have libraries where you can get access to this, and many libraries have it), under citizen's arrest. If you look in the Annotated Codes, there will be cases. Best way to see what is meant by "public offense" is to look at the facts of the reported cases in which the court held that there was such an offense. People v. Zelinski, which you can find in California Appellate Reports, or California Reporter (most courts will have library where these reporters are available), discusses a citizen's arrest. But it doesn't focus on '"public offense." (If this is all new to you, I'm sure you will find librarians who can guide you easily to the right sources.) My moot court teaching is based on the Zelinski scenario, so I don't have "public offense" sample facts in my head.

Good luck. Hope Dear Habermas can continue to be of help to you.


Some Related Links

Community Policing Pages
A site devoted to the memory of a policeman who became a professor
of criminal justice and sought to introduce community policing.
The site includes papers and references, and frequently asked questions.
Community policing emphasizes the police input to making our communities safe.
Citizens' arrests will emphasize the citizens' input in watching and alerting the police as need be.

L.A. Police Department Request for Active Volunteers
This won't give you citizen's arrest directly, but you may find links through this
group to other groups of active community service in the aid of criminal justice.
Link added May 1, 1999

California Codes

California Penal Code Table of Contents

Penal Code: Arrest, How and By Whom Made
Citizen's arrest is Penal Code Section 837. Notice that the code does not
define the term "public offense". For that, you'll need to go to
the annotated codes, and look at the fact patterns of cases that have held that
a public offense was involved.