If you witnessed a crime take place and did nothing to stop it, did you help perpetrate that crime? The answer to that, in Florida law, is no. You do not have to intervene to aid an injured or dying person in the aftermath of a traffic collision, shooting, or stabbing. You do not have to make a citizen’s arrest or help a struggling police officer hold down and cuff a dangerous and wildly flailing assailant. On the other side of the coin is the question of your rights to make a citizen’s arrest or help stop the commission of the crime. What force can you use? What crimes can you help stop from taking place? Can you chase down a burglar or drag someone out of their car for a hit and run?
Bystanders are Not Guilty of a Crime When they Fail to Help a Victim
More and more people are witnessing crimes and pulling out their phones and tablets to record the incident instead of helping law enforcement detain the person or provide aide to a gunshot victim. The age of smartphones, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter has shown a shocking and depressing dark side of our society, some claim in the Florida Sun Sentinel. According to Sameer Hinduja, a Florida Atlantic University criminologist, “What’s troubling is that the last thing we want when victimization is taking place is to say, ‘Oh, gosh, I can record this. It’s a sad commentary on our culture and very disconcerting.”
Making a Lawful Citizen’s Arrest
It is legal to make a citizen’s arrest in Florida, meaning that if you witness a person commit a felony, not a misdemeanor, it is lawful to intervene and use force, if necessary, to stop them from fleeing or committing further felonies. There are two aspects to a lawful citizen’s arrest: only use necessary force and ensure that the police are called immediately. According to Elaine Cohen, the associate dean of the Institute of Public Safety at Broward College, “You can’t claim a citizen’s arrest and then lock someone up in your basement for two weeks.” While it is usually unlawful to make a citizen’s arrest during the commission of a misdemeanor, it is lawful in some cases, such as a store employee stopping a shoplifter. According to the Florida Sun Sentinel, the following types of citizen arrests are lawful:
- Chasing down a person who stole a woman’s purse;
- Chasing down or arresting someone who you were told committed a felony, such as rape, assault or murder, and you have strong evidence and witnesses that they did commit the felony; and
- Arresting a drunk driver or stopping them from driving.
Call an Attorney if You Have Been Charged with a Crime Yourself for Making a Citizen’s Arrest
However, it is unlawful to arrest a shoplifter if you are not an employee, use unreasonable force to make an arrest, arrest a person for violating a routine traffic law (not including a hit and run, however), or to use handcuffs or detain them for more than an hour. Unfortunately, not every good deed goes by unnoticed, and you can actually be severely penalized for making a citizen’s arrest even if the perpetrator was guilty of a felony. If you were involved in making a citizen’s arrest and were sued or have had charges pressed against you as a result, you need immediate legal assistance. Call the West Palm Beach attorneys at the Skier Law Firm today at (561) 220-3355 for help.