How to Perform a Citizen's Arrest of A Bush Administration Official by Nathan Robinson
The news that 4 people had been arrested in Iowa while trying to perform a citizen's arrest on Karl Rove got me wondering: Can we arrest Bush administration officials ourselves? So I slogged through a slew of state statutes, and as it turns out, the answer is yes. But only if you live in certain particular states.
Citizen's arrests have a long, rich tradition dating back hundreds of years. Because the power of ordinary people to help law enforcement execute its duties is important, nearly every state has some sort of statute on the books permitting citizen detentions of suspected criminals.
However, while most states allow citizen's arrests, the majority require the presence of the citizen performing the arrest during the crime. A number of states have more flexible language in their laws, though. The California Penal Code, for example says the following:
837. A private person may arrest another:
1. For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not
in his presence.
3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
Alabama and Kentucky have similar wordings. Montana phrases things thusly:
A private person may arrest another when there is probable cause to believe that the person is committing or has committed an offense and the existing circumstances require the person's immediate arrest.
The dispute here will likely arise over the definition of the words "require the person's immediate arrest." I'd argue that if anyone needed to be immediately arrested, it's Karl Rove, but a Montana judge might disagree. And one of the main downsides to citizen's arrests is that if you're in the wrong, you have almost no legal protection (and depending on state law, may have committed a crime tantamount to kidnapping).
The full article has more insightful commentary, plus a handy 5 point check list for activists considering a citizen's arrest of a Bush administration official.