The in basket: Robert Arper wonders about something we’ve all heard of, but probably have never actually witnessed.
“My question has to do with ‘Citizen Arrest,’ he said. “When could a citizen invoke this procedure and when would the police officers recommend that we do not attempt a citizen arrest and what is the process for a citizen arrest?
“For example, would calling 911 to report a person or a license plate number for someone who litters or speeds be considered a citizen arrest? Is a citizen allowed to detain a person?”
The out basket: The term ‘arrest’ by definition would entail detaining a person, so reporting an offense to 911 wouldn’t constitute an arrest, citizen’s or otherwise.
Claire Bradley, a senior deputy in the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, says, “There is no provision that I know of for a lawful ‘citizen’s arrest’ in our state statutes. RCW 10.31.100 (et seq) deals with arrests of suspects, and it is exclusively related to law enforcement officers executing lawful arrests.
“It would be extremely unwise for a citizen to attempt to make an arrest or detain someone they believed committed a crime. It is absolutely unsafe to attempt to do so, and may give rise to civil or criminal actions against the citizen conducting the ‘arrest.'”
She didn’t specify what actions, but assault or kidnapping come to mind as charges that could arise from detaining another by force or threat for reasons found to be insufficient.
“There is, however,” Claire continued, “a provision in the Washington Court Rules for a citizen complaint filed in a court of limited jurisdiction. So, citizens CAN file a criminal complaint in a district or municipal court, for any misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, provided they follow the requirements set out in the Court Rule. CrRLJ 2.1(c). A citizen would need to file the complaint in proper form, and then the criminal action may be instituted.”
One assumes this would come into play if the prosecutor declined to bring the charge. Note also that felonies are excluded from this avenue.
Claire calls the following “the relevant portion of the rule:”
“(c) Citizen Complaints. Any person wishing to institute a criminal action
alleging a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor shall appear before a judge empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the State, other than
a judge pro tem.
“The judge may require the appearance to be made on the
record, and under oath. The judge may consider any allegations on the basis of
an affidavit sworn to before the judge. The court may also grant an opportunity at said hearing for evidence to be given by the county prosecuting attorney or
deputy, the potential defendant or attorney of record, law enforcement or other
potential witnesses. The court may also require the presence of other potential witnesses.”
Considerations that would likely result in refusal to let the citizen’s prosecution proceed include possible liability it would create for the county, possible disruption of other prosecutions, whether the complainant has adequate recourse in small claims court or other civil venues, and records of the parties involved as regards crimes of dishonesty.
If the case overcomes all those hurdles, the judge would warn the plaintiff about “the gravity of initiating a criminal complaint, of the necessity of a court
appearance or appearances for himself or herself and witnesses, of the possible
liability for false arrest and of the consequences of perjury” before authorizing the case to proceed.