How Citizens Arrest Can Lead to an Assault Charge in Arizona

Have you ever been tempted to perform a citizen’s arrest for the greater good of society? This utilitarian action is arguably quite heroic in some instances yet also has the potential to backfire in a big way. If things go south, your attempt at a citizen’s arrest has the potential to spur an assault charge. Here’s a quick look at how such a nightmarish yet perfectly realistic outcome could unfold.

Assault Charges Stemming From Citizen’s Arrests

Use your mind’s eye to envision a scenario in which you observe a hit and run auto accident. You witness the driver of a vehicle involved in the collision run away from the accident scene. You pull out your gun and hold the driver at gunpoint as you await the police to respond to the accident and call for help. A scuffle ensues and you strike the individual in the head, causing a traumatic brain injury.

A scenario similar to that described above could easily unfold anywhere in Arizona, ultimately leading to an assault charge for an individual attempting to ensure justice is served on behalf of those who have been wronged. The fact that performing a citizen’s arrest can lead to an assault charge makes a good argument for calling the police to request assistance after witnessing a hit and run accident or other crime instead of attempting to detain the individual on one’s own.

Citizen’s Arrests in the Context of Arizona Law

Arizona law permits individuals to perform citizen’s arrests. However, the law limits one’s ability to perform such an arrest, restricting it to situations in which specific crimes are being committed. Examples of crimes that provide solid legal footing for a citizen’s arrest include armed robbery, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, burglary, arson and aggravated assault. To assert the legal defense that a citizen’s arrest was justifiable, it must be proven to a jury that the law was violated to prevent one of the crimes listed above. Furthermore, the jury will also require an explanation of why such an action was reasonable.

Unfortunately, citizen’s arrests can backfire, leading to a prosecutor filing criminal charges against the individual who performed the arrest. In the end, it is the jury that determines if the citizen’s arrest was reasonable. However, this means those who perform citizen’s arrests are likely to need a criminal defense attorney in their corner at some point down the line, especially if they make a habit of becoming a public vigilante of sorts. It must be noted that in most instances when a citizen’s arrest is made with a deadly weapon such as a gun, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges will be brought against the individual performing the arrest.

Calling the Police Vs. Performing a Citizen’s Arrest

At some point down the line, you and everyone else will face the prospect of performing a citizen’s arrest or calling the police after witnessing an egregious injustice. Though there is certainly a good argument to be made that performing a citizen’s arrest is the right thing to do as it guarantees the supposed criminal is held in custody, doing so just might necessitate the hiring of a criminal defense attorney and participation in a legal process that chews up time, effort and money. This is precisely why many argue it is better to lean on the police to perform an arrest rather than attempt to do so on one’s own. Even if you are armed and capable of defending yourself, you might face an assault charge for your vigilante attempt at justice when all you had to do was contact the police for assistance.