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Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go?

Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go?

By H. Michael Steinberg Colorado Citizen’s Arrest Criminal Defense Lawyer

Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It GoUnderstanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go? Colorado and the West has a long tradition of the Citizen’s Arrest. With the wide open plains of the Southwest – law enforcement was practically nonexistent and it was left to the people to enforce the laws and to keep the peace until law enforcement arrived – if it ever did.  With that rich history – the Citizen’s Arrest has remained mostly the same over the years.  This article is intended to help understand the law as it exists today (2015)

The laws authorizing a Colorado Citizen’s arrest are simple: The at least four (4) laws that apply in Colorado Citizens Arrest laws are 16-3-201,16-3-202, 18-1-707 and 18-8-107.

The first is 16-3-201. Arrest by a private person.

§ 16-3-201. Arrest by a private person. (Authority of Person Not a Peace Officer to Make an Arrest)

A person who is not a peace officer may arrest another person when any crime has been or is being committed by the arrested person in the presence of the person making the arrest. Cite as C.R.S. § 16-3-201

Some rules that apply to this law:

The requirement of the “in the presence of “ means the arrestor must be personally present to observe the acts which are “sufficiently indicative of a crime in the course of commission of that crime.  IF the citizen meets the requirements of this law – THEN that citizen – a private person = can then use physical force to make the arrest. (see more on this below)

The next law permits the citizen to assist the police to report a crime and for assisting the police, for example, in making an arrest and gives that person immunity from criminal charges for doing so and from a law suit for damages for taking that chance.

16-3-202. Assisting peace officer – arrest – furnishing information – immunity.

(1) A peace officer making an arrest may command the assistance of any person who is in the vicinity.

(2) A person commanded to assist a peace officer has the same authority to arrest as the officer who commands his assistance.

(3) A person commanded to assist a peace officer in making an arrest shall not be civilly or criminally liable for any reasonable conduct in aid of the officer or for any acts expressly directed by the officer.

(4) Private citizens, acting in good faith, shall be immune from any civil liability for reporting to any police officer or law enforcement authority the commission or suspected commission of any crime or for giving other information to aid in the prevention of any crime.

What Happens If You Refuse To Aid A Police Officer If Ordered To Assist In An Arrest (at the State Level and under Denver Colorado Criminal Code Law)

18-8-107. Refusing to aid a peace officer.

A person, eighteen years of age or older, commits a class 1 petty offense when, upon command by a person known to him to be a peace officer, he unreasonably refuses or fails to aid the peace officer in effecting or securing an arrest or preventing the commission by another of any offense.

Denver Code of Ordinances – Revised Municipal – 38-38. Duty of citizens to aid police officers   

It shall be the duty of all persons, when called upon by any police officer, member of the police department, or person duly empowered with police authority, promptly to aid and assist such officer, member or person in the discharge of their duties.

§ 18-1-707. Use of physical force in making an arrest or in preventing an escape

[HMS – The first sections only apply to the police]

(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a peace officer is justified in using
reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent
that he reasonably believes it necessary:
(a) To effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person unless he knows that the arrest is unauthorized; or
(b) To defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force while effecting or attempting to effect such an arrest or while preventing or attempting to prevent such an escape.
(2) A peace officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person for a purpose specified in subsection (1) of this section only when he reasonably believes that it is necessary:
(a) To defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; or
(b) To effect an arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody, of a person whom he reasonably believes:
(I) Has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon; or
(II) Is attempting to escape by the use of a deadly weapon; or
(III) Otherwise indicates, except through a motor vehicle violation, that he is likely to endanger human life or to inflict serious bodily injury to another unless apprehended without delay.
(3) Nothing in subsection (2) (b) of this section shall be deemed to constitute justification for
reckless or criminally negligent conduct by a peace officer amounting to an offense against or with respect to innocent persons whom he is not seeking to arrest or retain in
custody.
(4) For purposes of this section, a reasonable belief that a person has committed an offense
means a reasonable belief in facts or circumstances which if true would in law constitute an offense. If the believed facts or circumstances would not in law constitute an offense, an erroneous though not unreasonable belief that the law is otherwise does not render justifiable the use of force to make an arrest or to prevent an escape from custody. A peace officer who is effecting an arrest pursuant to a warrant is justified in using the physical force prescribed in subsections (1) and (2) of this section unless the warrant is invalid and is known by the officer to be invalid.

[HMS – Here is the section that applies to a Peace Officer directing a private citizen to assist in an arrest and or to prevent an escape. It addresses the force that can be used to make the arrest]

(5) Except as provided in subsection (6) of this section, a person who has been directed by a
peace officer to assist him to effect an arrest or to prevent an escape from custody is
justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force when and to the extent that he
reasonably believes that force to be necessary to carry out the peace officer’s direction,
unless he knows that the arrest or prospective arrest is not authorized.

(6) A person who has been directed to assist a peace officer under circumstances specified in
subsection (5) of this section may use deadly physical force to effect an arrest or to prevent an escape only when:

(a) He reasonably believes that force to be necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; or
(b) He is directed or authorized by the peace officer to use deadly physical force and does not know, if that happens to be the case, that the peace officer himself is not authorized to use deadly physical force under the circumstances.

[HMS – THIS is the citizen’s arrest section of this statute.]

(7) A private person acting on his own account is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to effect an arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person who has committed an offense in his presence; but he is justified in using deadly physical force for the purpose only when he reasonably believes it necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.

What If You Are Sued In Civil Court For Trying To Prevent A Crime From Being Committed Against Another Person?

Under these circumstances – the Good Samaritan is immune from civil damages – here is the law:

16-3-203. Preventing a crime – reimbursement

Any person who is not a peace officer as defined in section 24-31-301(5) , C.R.S., who is made the defendant in any civil action as a result of having sought to prevent a crime being committed against any other person, and who has judgment entered in his favor shall be entitled to all his court costs and to reasonable attorney fees incurred in such action.

The Good Samaritan who attempts to assist in the prevention of a crime has immunity from a law suit as a matter of law and good public policy.

When Making A Colorado Citizen’s Arrest – Some Additional Thoughts

When you think about it  – the Colorado citizen in some cases actually has more power to arrest than police in some situations. Every citizen can make an arrest anywhere in the country.  The police power is limited for the most part to their jurisdiction. If they make a mistake – they can sued for “false arrest.”  If the police leave their jurisdiction – they are relegated to the same authority as the average citizen. 

Remember  – you must witness a crime that is taken place around you or be sufficiently capable of connecting the arrest with a crime very recently committed. Like the police – you must have “probable cause” for the arrest. So if you see a man punch a woman in a bar – you have the right to restrain that man and prevent his leaving the bar until the police arrive and you can use reasonable force to detain that individual.

You can only use that amount of force required to detain the person until the police arrive. Like every instance of the use of force to make an arrest – you CANNOT use a greater amount of force that is necessary and you should never harm the alleged perpetrator unless it is absolutely necessary.

The police cannot use excessive force to make an arrest and neither can you.

There is also the danger – in making a citizen’s arrest that – if you identify yourself as a police officer – you could be charged with impersonating a police officer as well as other charges such as false imprisonment, kidnapping, wrongful arrest, assault and or battery.

Recap – Colorado’s Law Of Self Defense and The Colorado Citizen’s Arrest

In Colorado, a private citizen may arrest another when the arrested person commits or has committed a crime in the presence of the person making the arrest. § 16-3-201, C.R.S.

The same law applies to both a citizen’s arrest and a police officer making an arrest – A citizen and a peace officer attempting or making an arrest are “justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force.” to make an arrest § 18-1-707(1)(a), C.R.S. A private citizen may use “reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another . . . when and to the extent he reasonably believes it necessary to effect an arrest,” § 18-1-707(7), C.R.S.

BUT self-defense is only permissible whenever a person reasonably believes they are facing the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force. 18-1-704(1). Because of this rule of law – the right to self-defense as against the citizen making the arrest applies only when the person being arrested by that private citizen reasonably believes that the force used or threatened by that private citizen exceeds the amount of force a private citizen is permitted to use to make a lawful citizen’s arrest.

Put another way – the reasonable use of the defense of self defense it the person being arrested in the situation of a citizen’s arrest reasonably believed that he was being unlawfully assaulted. A jury is instructed in this situation looks at the reasonableness of the defendant’s belief in the need to take defensive action and must consider the totality of the circumstances, including the perceptions of the person being arrested.

18-1-704 Use Of Physical Force In Defense Of A Person

1. Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose.

Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at hmsteinberg@hotmail.com – A Denver Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer  – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – 720-220-2277. Attorney H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense.  His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly handle your case.

A Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.  If you are seeking counsel there maybe other more specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics. For that, please contact the author.

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Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go?
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Understanding Colorado’s Citizen’s Arrest Law 16-3-201- How Far Does It Go?
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Colorado and the West has a long tradition of the Citizen’s Arrest. With the wide open plains of the Southwest - law enforcement was practically nonexistent and it was left to the people to enforce the laws and to keep the peace until law enforcement arrived - if it ever did. With that rich history - the Citizen’s Arrest has remained mostly the same over the years. This article is intended to help understand the law as it exists today (2015)
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