Citizen’s Arrests & How They Apply to Tampa Criminal Cases

The concept of a citizen’s arrest is not a new one. It can be traced back to the Statute of Winchester, which was enacted by King Edward I of England in 1285. This law allowed a citizen who had witnessed a crime to detain the suspect while waiting for the sheriff or constable to arrive.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we should all go around carrying handcuffs, looking to arrest lawbreakers. It also doesn’t justify the use of excessive force against a person who is allegedly committing or attempting to commit a crime. Making a citizen’s arrest – or being the subject of one – can open the door to a lot of questions and concerns about the validity of the arrest and whether it was in violation of one’s rights.

In the U.S. today, each state has its own implementation of citizen’s arrest laws. In Florida, there is no specific statute that outlines the rights and wrongs of a citizen’s arrest, but common law dictates that such an arrest can be made in instances where a felony or breach of the peace has been committed or attempted. A citizen’s arrest may also be made in an attempt to stop a person from driving drunk. A citizen’s arrest must be made using an appropriate amount of force based on the situation at hand. Arrests by citizens are not specifically allowed in regard to misdemeanor offenses.

Further explanation of Florida’s citizen’s arrest standard can be found in McAnnis v. State (1980), which involved an arrest a Broward County police officer made in Miami-Dade County, outside of his jurisdiction.

In this case, the presiding judge determined that a citizen’s arrest would be valid if:

  • The citizen intended to make an arrest.
  • The citizen declared their intentions to the suspect.
  • The citizen had the ability to detain the suspect and did so.
  • The suspect understood the situation and the citizen’s intentions.

Attempt to Abolish Citizen’s Arrest in Florida Fails

At the beginning of 2022, Florida House Representative Christopher Benjamin proposed legislature (HB 1083) that would essentially abolish all allowances for citizen's arrests in Florida, except for those made by police officers outside of their jurisdiction.

The proposed bill came about a month after three men were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was shot and killed on February 23, 2020, while jogging through a neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia. The defense attorneys for the three men attempted to argue that their clients were making a citizen’s arrest, but the jury found all three guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault, and other crimes. Georgia then repealed its citizen’s arrest statute in May 2021.

The goal of HB 1083 was to make it so only law enforcement officers could make arrests in Florida, but the bill never had its day in court, so to speak. It died before it could even reach a committee hearing.

Citizen’s Arrest by a Security Guard or Store Owner

Citizen's arrests are extremely rare in Florida and across the United States, particularly in situations where a normal person witnesses a crime or takes action to prevent a crime from being committed. One scenario where it is more likely, however, is in a case involving alleged theft, trespassing, or shoplifting, where a security guard or property owner acts to detain a suspect.

In Florida, a security guard may make a citizen’s arrest if they observe a person committing a felony or breach of the peace. They are not granted special authority or power to use excessive force or detain a person for an extended period of time. They can, however, detain a suspect for a reasonable time while waiting for law enforcement to arrive.

Florida Statute 493.631 specifically addresses licensed security personnel at “critical infrastructure facilities,” including deep-water ports, refineries, power plants, chemical manufacturing facilities, and similar locations. If they are on duty and in uniform, licensed security personnel may temporarily detain a person if they have probable cause to believe that person is committing or attempting to commit a crime. They must use reasonable force and must inform law enforcement, and they must transfer the person over to law enforcement when they arrive.

When it comes to retail stores, gated communities, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and similar locations, the principle of a citizen’s arrest by a security guard can become somewhat unclear. The general rule of thumb, according to Florida common law, would be that the guard can only act as a normal citizen would to make an arrest.

Helping After Citizen's Arrests in Tampa, FL

When a citizen’s arrest leads to criminal charges, it will be at the court’s discretion to determine whether the arrest was lawful. This would be based on the specific circumstances and events leading up to the arrest and whether the citizen had probable cause to act in the first place. If the court determines the citizen’s arrest was made in violation of the law or the suspect’s rights, the case may be dismissed entirely.

At Thomas & Paulk, we have extensive criminal defense experience, including on such complex issues as citizens’ arrests. If you were detained by an off-duty officer, a police officer outside of their jurisdiction, a guard, or any person, you still have rights. Our attorneys can consider the facts and evidence to determine whether you may have been targeted for reasons of prejudice or hate, and also whether the citizen’s arrest was carried out in accordance with common law and legal precedent. These cases are complicated, but we are up to the challenge.

To learn more, call our Tampa criminal defense lawyers for your free, private consultation. We take on all types of felonies and misdemeanors throughout Florida, from DUIs to drug charges to violent crimes.

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