Self-help Law

This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to make a citizen's arrest

When can I make a citizen's arrest?

Private citizens have the power to make an arrest in the following circumstances:

  • if the crime is being committed at night
  • if the crime being committed is punishable by three years' imprisonment or more
  • if a person is attempting to escape from someone trying to make an arrest

As a general rule the offences for which one is likely to make a citizen's arrest will be of a more serious nature, including murder, serious assault, drug offences, sex offences, breaking and entering, fraud and theft.

What should I say in making the arrest?

When making a citizen's arrest, you should inform the person that you are doing so for the particular crime in question, and that you are taking them to the nearest Police officer.

Witnesses

If there are any other witnesses present, try to get their help and ask for their names and addresses.

How much force can be used?

If force is required to make a citizen's arrest, you should use only reasonable force to overcome any resistance being given; otherwise your actions could amount to an assault.

You should be aware that the suspect has the right to resist your efforts to make the arrest: you do not have the same powers as a Police officer.

Do I have any powers to search or question the person?

No, you have no legal rights to search or seize anything from the person, nor to question him or her.

Cautionary notes
  • Even though you have the right to make a citizen's arrest, you are not required to do so by law. If you feel it is necessary to make an arrest, you should proceed with caution, as the person in question may well be dangerous.
  • You should also ensure that you have the proper grounds to make the arrest; if you do not you may open yourself to being sued for wrongful arrest.

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