How to Make a Citizen's Arrest in Tennessee

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Law enforcement officers typically detain criminals, but in some instances, private citizens can detain a private person for committing a crime. Tennessee allows its citizens to make arrests under specific circumstances with reasonable cause.

However, individuals can be held liable for their actions if they make an illegal arrest or use unreasonable force. A person making a citizen’s arrest receives no compensation for doing so.

What Is a Citizen’s Arrest?

Private individuals can make an arrest without a warrant in certain situations. ‌A citizen’s arrest occurs when ordinary individuals detain criminals or direct police department personnel to do so.

A person making a citizen’s arrest is subject to state and federal laws when doing so, although they do not need to follow as many constitutional requirements as law enforcement officers do. If the person making the arrest fails to abide by these laws, they can face criminal or civil liability.

Citizen's Arrest Law in Tennessee

A private citizen in Tennessee can arrest another person when:

  • Someone commits a public offense with the arresting person present.
  • Arrested person has committed a felony (this does not have to be in front of the arresting person).
  • Arrested person commits a felony, and the arresting citizen has a reasonable belief that the person they are arresting committed that felony.

A citizen's arrest cannot be made against someone committing a misdemeanor.

When someone makes a citizen’s arrest in Tennessee, they must not delay in taking the person they’re arresting to a law enforcement officer or before a magistrate, who will determine probable cause. A police officer may also take the arrested person before a magistrate without a warrant.

Citizen's Arrest and Constitutional Requirements

Although the person making a citizen's arrest has fewer constitutional requirements to adhere to than does a law enforcement agency, if they act at the request of law enforcement, they must meet the same constitutional requirements while making the arrest as a law enforcement officer would.

For example, a person making a citizen's arrest at law enforcement’s request must adhere to Fourth Amendment search and seizure requirements, which protect a person’s privacy and their right to be free from unreasonable intrusion by the government into their business, homes or properties through a police stop or search.

Reasonable Use of Force

Individuals making a citizen's arrest in Tennessee can use only that amount of force necessary to accomplish the arrest of a person who resists arrest or attempts to flee.

A person making a citizen’s arrest cannot use or threaten deadly force unless in self-defense or defense of a third party, according to Tennessee Code Sections 39-11-611 and 39-11-612.

What is a reasonable and necessary amount of force? This depends on the circumstances of the arrest. A jury typically examines the facts of a citizen’s arrest to determine if the amount of force used by the arresting person was reasonable or excessive.

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