As a kid, we ran around playing cops and robbers and we use to yell "citizen's arrest".

As an adult, it has a totally different meaning and with the recent news, it makes you wonder if a citizen's arrest is even legal still in the State of Washington so I went digging because I'm fascinated by the notion. This is what I found out.

Is it legal to make a citizen's arrest in the State of Washington?

The answer is yes but there are guidelines that you have to follow --- you can't just put a random citizen's arrest on someone as we did as kids --- there are still rules that every citizen has to follow.

The recent Defend The Tri movement in the wake of the looting and rioting in Seattle begs the question --- what legal right does Defend The Tri have to make a citizen's arrest? How could this affect you if you happen to run into them one late night in the mall parking lot?

A few good questions that can be legally answered by looking at the DOL.WA.GOV website.

Here is what the law states in Washington State:

Under Washington law, a private person can conduct a citizen’s arrest for a misdemeanor if the misdemeanor: (1) was committed in the citizen’s presence and (2) constituted a breach of the peace. State v. Gonzales, 24 Wn. App. 437, 439, 604 P.2d 168 (1979); Guijosa v. Wal-Mart Stores, 101 Wn. App. 777, 791, 6 P.3d 583 (2000).

A person can also conduct a citizen’s arrest for felonies. See State v. Malone, 106 Wn.2d 607, 724 P.2d 364 at FN1 (1986) citing State v. Miller, 103 Wn.2d 792, 698 P.2d 554 (1985) and State v. Gonzales, 24 Wn. App. 437, 604 P.2d 168 (1979).

RCW 10.04.020 provides for a citizen’s arrest at the direction of a district court judge, as follows:

Arrest -- Offense committed in view of a district judge. When an offense is committed in view of any district judge, the judge may, by verbal direction to any deputy, or if no deputy is present, to any citizen, cause such deputy or citizen to arrest such offender, and keep such offender in custody for the space of one hour unless such offender shall sooner be taken from such custody by virtue of a warrant issued on the complaint on oath. But such person so arrested, shall not be confined in jail, nor put upon any trial, until arrested by virtue of such warrant.

While Washington has no statute concerning a citizen's arrest, application of the common law doctrine of citizen’s arrest is demonstrated in the synopsis of the case below:

Instruction on lawful arrest in prosecution for third-degree assault, arising from defendant's resistance to apprehension by store personnel, did not improperly state the law; although the language was taken from the statute which sets forth defense available to store personnel who have detained a suspected shoplifter, the statutory language was consistent with the common-law right of citizen arrest which permits detention of a suspected shoplifter on reasonable grounds. State v. Jones (1992) 63 Wash.App. 703, 821 P.2d 543, review denied 118 Wash.2d 1028, 828 P.2d 563. Assault And Battery 96(3); Criminal Law 808.5

So you can legally make a citizen's arrest in the State of Washington if you see someone commit a felony or misdemeanor but the police say there is also some danger when doing so.

You could injure yourself or the suspect and you could face litigation if you falsely accuse someone of a crime and that doesn't even include holding your suspect until police arrive.

The police would much prefer you to be a good witness but it is legal to make a citizen's arrest in Washington. A good example of a common citizen's arrest is a shopkeeper detaining a suspected shoplifter so it is possible to make a citizen's arrest in Washington.

You can read more details on the laws that surround a citizen's arrest here.

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