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The Register encourages its readers to submit interesting questions, which will then be forwarded to an appropriate source within the University in search of the answer. Send questions via e-mail to asktheexperts@vanderbilt.edu, or via mail to “Ask the Experts” c/o the Vanderbilt Register, 110 21st Ave. S., Suite 708, Nashville, TN 37203.

Q. Can someone really make a citizens arrest?

A. The law in our state permits “citizens arrests” as provided for in the Tennessee Code Annotated Title 40. “Arrest by Private Person” as it is known, permits a citizen who is not a police officer to arrest others for public offenses called misdemeanors and felonies, with some restrictions.

Misdemeanors are offenses punishable by less than one year in jail or by fines. To make a private person arrest, the offense must be committed in the arresting citizen’s presence. A felony is any crime punishable by at least one year in jail or prison. Arrests for felonies can be made when the crime occurs in the presence of the arresting citizen, or the arresting citizen has reasonable cause to believe that the person arrested committed it. To arrest without reasonable cause exposes the arresting citizen to extensive liability and possible prosecution for false arrest.

Regarding escapes from jail, private citizens can only arrest persons if the offense for which they were incarcerated is a felony.

Citizens are required to inform those arrested at the time of arrest the reason for the arrest, unless the person is in the actual commission of the offense. You must immediately and without undue delay turn the arrested person over to a police officer.

Finally, a word of caution about citizen arrests. The average person has not been trained to avoid injury and civil litigation. Citizen arrests should be attempted only in extreme circumstances. Citizens observing a criminal offense or suspicious activity should take note of the description of the suspect and the related activities and notify the police as soon as possible.

Source: Al Guyet, Vanderbilt Police Chief

— Kofi Outlaw