The police force in every state and country is responsible for providing citizens with a sense of safety and security. The police have a duty to maintain peace and order in society as well as to prevent and detect crime. They are the law enforcers who make sure that everyone, including the police force itself, follows the law at every step. Since the police force has a responsibility for maintaining overall law and order, they must gather information about what is happening in and around the community it serves and prepare an honest, evidence-based report case for the prosecutor to present at court during any criminal trial or proceeding. The United Nations recommends that there should be around 230 police officers for every 100,000 people but this number is not met in India where there are less than a 150 police officers for every 100,000 citizens. For this reason, Section 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure[i] empowers every citizen to make what is known as a ‘citizen’s arrest’ in cases where there is no other option and the wrongdoer must be stopped. However, since police officers are equipped with the proper intervention tools and are trained to deal with incidents which may escalate and become violent, civilians should report wrongdoing to the police instead of taking action on their own, whenever possible.
What is a citizen’s arrest?
Section 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states “Any private person may arrest or cause to be arrested any person who in his presence commits a non-bailable and cognizable offence, or any proclaimed offender, and, without unnecessary delay, shall make over or cause to be made over any person so arrested to a police officer, or, in the absence of a police officer, take such person or cause him to be taken in custody to the nearest police station.[ii]” This means that any arrest made by a person who is not acting as a sworn law-enforcement official is legal and will be known as a ‘citizen’s arrest.’ Despite the name, however, the term “any private person” denotes that any person and not just a citizen belonging to the jurisdiction of that nation can apprehend a wrongdoer and make an arrest. Section 37 of the Code of Criminal Procedure further provides and obligation to the common citizen to assist the police and the magistrates and it states that “every person is bound to assist a Magistrate or police officer reasonably demanding his aid in the taking or preventing the escape of any other person whom such Magistrate or police officer is authorised to arrest, the prevention or suppression of a breach of peace or the prevention of any injury attempted to be committed to any railway, canal, telegraph or public property”[iii]
Making a citizen’s arrest is similar to the exercise of self-defence and because of this similarity, the law states that a person making a citizen’s arrest can only use as much force as is necessary for the purpose of making the arrest, as long as the act is on reasonable grounds. However, any force used must be tailored to the circumstances, and the person making the arrest can be held criminally responsible for any excess force that they use. The law requires that when making a citizen’s arrest, the arrested individual must be delivered to a police officer without delay. If you make a citizen’s arrest and do not call the police as soon as possible, the arrest might be ruled illegal, and you could face civil or criminal consequences.
Precautions to be kept in mind before making a citizen’s arrest
Making a citizen’s arrest without carefully considering the risk factors may have serious unintended consequences for the person doing so and others involved or present around the area. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person’s body in an effort to detain them and this could turn violent which is unpredictable and possibly harmful to the civilians especially since most of them are not trained in the procedure of making arrests. Before deciding whether to make a citizen’s arrest, therefore, everyone should keep in mind the following points[iv]:
- If it is possible to contact a police officer and have him intervene and interact with the wrongdoer.
- The personal safety of the person making the arrest and that of others which could be compromised by attempting an arrest.
- Whether the suspect is alone and whether they possess a weapon.
- Probability of being able to turn the suspect in to the police officers as soon as the arrest is made
- Reasonable cause to arrest the suspect
If anyone decides to make a citizen’s arrest, they should[v]:
- Tell the suspect plainly that you are making a citizen’s arrest and that you are holding him or her until police arrive.
- Call the police.
- Ask explicitly for his or her cooperation until the police arrive.
- Avoid using force, if at all possible, and use it to the minimum possible otherwise.
- Do not question or search the suspect or his or her possessions. Your purpose is only to temporarily detain him or her until police arrive.
- When police arrive, state the plain facts of what happened.
A citizen’s arrest is especially tricky when the identification of the suspect is called into question. It is always extremely important to correctly identify a suspect and their criminal involvement. If a citizen’s arrest is made at the very time a person is found committing a crime, the correct identification of the suspect will not likely be called into question. However, if the arrest is made “within a reasonable time after” observing the offence, the accuracy of the identification of the suspect may be called into question. Therefore, if an arrest has to be made “within a reasonable time after” observing an offence, it is strongly urged that the person exercises additional care in confirming the identity of the suspect. If the person someone attempt to arrest is the wrong person, the situation can potentially be very dangerous as the person being arrested will not understand why they are being detained and may not submit to the arrest. In these circumstances, there is a real risk of provoking a violent confrontation and risking injury or death.
A citizen’s arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, private citizens are neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals so the exercise of extreme caution when attempting to make a citizen’s arrest is recommended. If a civilian thinks that a wrongdoer is trying to get away and that there is no way to reach out to the police fast enough, he is empowered to arrest the wrongdoer himself but after doing so he cannot use force on him or interrogate him but can only take him to the nearest police station and file a report after which the competent authorities, i.e. the police, will take over the case.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1972 (India).
[iv]What you need to know about making a Citizen’s Arrest, Department of Justice, (September 15, 2019, 11:07 PM), https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/wyntk.html.