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When is a citizen’s arrest a violation of someone’s rights?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2024 | Civil Rights Lawsuit Defense

Members of the public may witness criminal activity when they’re out and about. In some cases, they may feel compelled to intervene because they view that as the right thing to do. Attempting to detain someone who has broken the law could lead to that party’s arrest by police officers and criminal prosecution.

Maybe someone works as a manager at a retail shop or a loss prevention specialist at a local shopping mall. Perhaps someone simply encountered an assault or other felony offense in progress and intervened because they viewed it as their civic duty. Technically, the law in Tennessee does allow those in certain circumstances to conduct a citizen’s arrest even though they have no association with municipal authorities or local police departments.

Private citizens can detain someone until state authorities arrive to take control of the situation. Yet, it is important to understand that those who act for the protection of others or the preservation of the public peace may find themselves accused of violating someone’s civil rights. How can someone establish that they did not violate someone’s rights but instead conducted a lawful citizen’s arrest?

The law is very clear about citizen’s arrests

There are generally three scenarios in which someone in Tennessee can detain another person on suspicion of criminal activity. The first is when they personally witness the crime. The second is when they are aware that the person who they detained previously committed a felony offense. The third is when a felony offense occurred and someone has reasonable cause to believe the person they detained is to blame.

Provided that someone accused of a false arrest or the unlawful imprisonment of another person can show that the situation fell into one of those three categories, they could potentially defend against those accusations in criminal court. False imprisonment or false arrest is often a Class A misdemeanor offense that carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

Someone who has been accused of violating another person’s civil rights could face prosecution and possibly also very expensive civil litigation. The consequences of failing to fight back could alter the course of someone’s life. Properly responding to allegations of a civil rights violation may require that someone first re-frame the situation. Those who know Tennessee law may be in a better position to assert themselves after an encounter with another person leads to surprising allegations.