August 21, 1998 98-R-0959
FROM: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
RE: Citizen's Arrest--Standards
You asked whether our law limits a person's authority to make a citizen's arrest to offenses that occur in the citizen's presence. As you know the Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be considered one.
Based on the language used in several court cases, our law allows a citizen to make an arrest if the offense occurs in his presence. Unfortunately, few Connecticut cases deal with the authority of a citizen to make an arrest and the cases are old. Also, we could not find a Connecticut case that explicitly turned on the issue of whether the offense had to occur in the citizen's presence for him to be able to legally make the arrest. Thus, it is not clear whether this is an absolute prerequisite under all circumstances.
The authority of a citizen to make an arrest is from our common law (judge made). Although a statute deals with citizen arrests, it establishes rules for when a citizen can use force or deadly force; it does not appear to independently confer any authority to actually make the arrest.
The leading case appears to be Malley v. Lane, 97 Conn. 133 (1921). The Supreme Court held that a person in whose presence another commits a misdemeanor theft may, without a warrant, arrest or detain the accused until a police officer arrives. An earlier case established the right of the owners of stolen goods, and those acting with the owner's authority, to pursue and arrest the thief without a warrant (Wrexford v. Smith, 2 Root 171 (1795)). In a relatively recent case, a Superior Court judge restated the common law rule that a citizen can make an arrest or prevent the escape of one whom he has observed committing a felony or a misdemeanor (State v. Ghiloni, 35 Conn. Sup. 570 (1978)).
Under the common law rule still in effect in many jurisdictions, a private person may arrest without a warrant in a felony case if (1) the felony has actually been committed and (2) he has reasonable grounds for believing that the person he arrests committed it. Under this rule, if no felony has been committed an arrest without a warrant by a private person is illegal (5 AmJur 2d Arrest, § 58). This rule has been modified in some jurisdictions to uphold an arrest if the private citizen had reasonable grounds for believing that a crime had been committed and the arrested person was guilty even though it was subsequently shown that no felony had been committed (Burton v. McNeil, 13 SE 2d 10 (South Carolina); also see 133 ALR 603).
The relevant Connecticut statute is CGS § 53a-22. It authorizes a private person to use reasonable physical force when and to the extent he reasonably believes it is necessary to make an arrest of someone he reasonably believes has committed an offense and who has in fact committed the offense. He may use deadly force only if he reasonably believes the other person is (1) using or about to use deadly physical force or (2) inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm. But he may not do so if he knows he can avoid using force with complete safety by (1) retreating unless he is in his dwelling or place of work and was not the initial aggression; (2) surrendering property to a person claiming he has a right to it; or (3) complying with a demand that he abstain from performing an act he is not obligated to perform (see CGS § 53a-19).