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25 Cornell J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 557 (2015-2016)
Vilifying the Vigilante: A Narrowed Scope of Citizen's Arrest

handle is hein.journals/cjlpp25 and id is 575 raw text is: 



                            Ira P. Robbins*

     The  doctrine of citizen's arrest in the United States has been ig-
nored for far too long. In every jurisdiction in the United States, a pri-
vate person may  lawfully detain another and often may even use physical
force to do so. Placing such power  in the hands of ordinary, untrained
individuals creates the possibility that citizens will misuse or abuse the
privilege, sometimes with serious consequences for both the arrestor and
the arrestee. This risk is compounded  by the disparate treatment of the
citizen's arrest doctrine in different jurisdictions and the ambiguities in-
herent in many  of the doctrine's key features-such as whether one may
arrest another only on suspicion of a felony, or also for a misdemeanor
or breach  of the peace; the level of probable cause required to make an
arrest; the length of detention that is legally permitted; and the appropri-
ate amount  of force used to effectuate the arrest.
     Citizen's arrest arose in medieval times as a direct result of the lack
 of an organized police force and practical modes of transportation to get
 to the scene of a crime expeditiously. Citizens had a positive duty to
 assist the King in seeking out suspected offenders and detaining them.
 However,  citizen's arrest is a doctrine whose time should have passed
 many decades-or   centuries-ago.   As official police forces became the
 norm, the need for citizen's arrest dissipated. Yet these arrests are still
 authorized throughout the United States today, whether by common   law
 or by statute.
     With  the core principles of citizen's arrest in flux, it is exceedingly
 difficult for private individuals to understand the doctrine's subtleties
 and to effectuate arrests lawfully, safely, and without fear of reprisal.
 Implementation is ripe for abuse. Moreover, citizen's arrests performed
 by private persons acting collectively as volunteer watch groups, such as

     * Barnard T. Welsh Scholar and Professor of Law and Justice, American University,
 Washington College of Law. A.B., University of Pennsylvania; J.D., Harvard University. I
 am more than ordinarily grateful to my superb and indispensable research assistants-Jon
 Bressler, Leigh Colihan, Daniel C6t6, Cory Hutchens, Allie Kepkay, and John Zipp-whom I
 consider to be not only my students, but also my colleagues and good friends, and to the
 American University Law School Research Fund for providing summer financial support.
 Copyright @ 2016 by Ira P. Robbins. All rights reserved.


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