Last Saturday, Nicky Hilton, sister of Paris Hilton, performed a citizen's arrest on a man who allegedly pushed her outside an IHOP. The celebutante's foray into crime-fighting, and recent attempted citizen's arrests of Karl Rove, spark the question: are citizen's arrests really legal?
MSNBC reports that a fifty year old man named Michael Broadhurst allegedly pushed Nicky Hilton as she was leaving a West Hollywood IHOP at around 5am on Saturday morning. According to NBC Los Angeles, Hilton proceeded to inform the man that she was placing him under citizen's arrest before a deputy dining in the IHOP came out to assist.
Since 2007, Karl Rove has (at least) three times been the subject of attempted citizen's arrests. In Iowa last July, a group of four attempted to place him under citizen's arrest when he went to Des Moines to speak at a fundraiser. As it would turn out, the four would be citizen-constables were themselves arrested. They were subsequently cited for trespassing and released. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that two of the four had attempted a citizen's arrest of Rove one year previously. That time they were also arrested, but were released without charges.
In October, a Code Pink protester in San Francisco tried to slap the cuffs on Rove for treason while he participated in a panel discussion for the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual convention. Code Pink's official release on the incident (which contains the Arrest Complaint against Rove) states that five protesters were removed from the building but not charged.
So, can people legally perform citizen's arrests? The short answer is yes. In virtually all states, private individuals can lawfully arrest someone whom they witness committing a felony. States differ, however, in the extent to which they allow such arrests for lesser crimes and whether they allow citizen's arrests when the crime was not directly witnessed by the arresting individual.
For example, under the California Penal Code Section 837, which governs the arrest by Nicky Hilton, a private person may arrest someone:
In addition to considering their own safety, anyone thinking about making a citizen's arrest should first learn their state's law regarding allowable arrests. They should also remember that citizen's arrests without adequate cause, which violate the rights of the arrested, or which result in injury can bring criminal and/or civil penalties down on the citizen law enforcer.
Seattle Police Spokesman: Ditto (Seattle Post Intelligencer)