How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest in SC

How do you make a citizen’s arrest in SC?

The laws that authorize citizens’ arrests are different from state to state – what does South Carolina law say about it?

You can make a citizen’s arrest in SC, but only under limited circumstances – is it a good idea, and what happens if you get it wrong?

Can you be charged with a crime for making a citizen’s arrest? Can you be sued for making a citizen’s arrest?

When Can You Make a Citizen’s Arrest in SC?

SC Code Sections 17-13-10 and 17-13-20 list the circumstances when any citizen can make an arrest in South Carolina.

17-13-10 says that you can make a citizen’s arrest in SC at any time of day or night, if:

  • You witness a felony being committed;
  • You have “certain information” that a felony has been committed; or
  • If you witness a larceny being committed (even if the larceny is a misdemeanor like petty larceny or shoplifting).

17-30-20 provides additional circumstances when a citizen can make an arrest during the nighttime, but not necessarily during daylight hours:

  • When the person has committed a felony;
  • If they have entered someone’s home without permission;
  • They have broken into an “outhouse” (a garage, shed, or storage building) “with a view to plunder;”
  • They have stolen property in their possession; or
  • When the circumstances raise a suspicion of the person’s intent to steal or commit a felony and the person runs away.

Can I Make a Citizen’s Arrest in SC for a Misdemeanor Offense?

Under South Carolina’s common law (law decided by appellate opinions but not found in a statute), you could make a citizen’s arrest only for a misdemeanor breach of peace that was committed in your presence.

In State v. McAteer, in 2000, the SC Supreme Court held that the SC no longer has a “common law” right of citizen’s arrest and that the only circumstances where a citizen’s arrest is valid are the circumstances listed in the SC Code (see above).

You can make a citizen’s arrest if you see a felony being committed or have information that a felony has been committed. Some of the other circumstances listed may involve a misdemeanor offense, but the common law breach of peace is not included.

The statute may, however, cover the misdemeanor offenses of:

  • Trespass;
  • Receiving or possession of stolen goods;
  • Petty larceny;
  • Shoplifting; or even
  • No offense – where someone is about to steal or commit a felony but then runs away.

Can I Kill a Person During a Citizen’s Arrest in SC?

It’s an awful question to ask, but it is answered by SC’s citizen’s arrest statutes…

In the nighttime, under Section 17-13-20, the arrest should be made “by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken.”

In daylight hours, however, under Section 17-13-10, “any person may arrest the felon or thief and take him to a judge or magistrate, to be dealt with according to law.” Which means, don’t kill them

If I Arrest Someone, Should I Take Them to a Magistrate?

Well, sort of.

Although the statute says, “take him to a judge or magistrate,” I recommend you stay put, immediately call the police, and let them handle the situation. If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to detain someone in a citizen’s arrest, do not attempt to force them to move or attempt to transport them – dial 911 and get law enforcement on the scene as soon as possible.

Why Shouldn’t I Make a Citizen’s Arrest in SC – Can I Be Arrested or Sued?

I don’t recommend that anyone make a citizen’s arrest, although I can imagine some scenarios where it might seem necessary.

If you do decide to make a citizen’s arrest, you’d better be right, and you may have to justify your actions to police or the court later – do you know what you can and cannot arrest a person for? Do you know which offenses are felonies, which are misdemeanors, and which misdemeanor offenses are listed in the statute above?

You probably won’t have time to stop, get on a computer, come back to look at this article, or research when a citizen’s arrest is valid…

Can I Be Arrested for Making a Citizen’s Arrest in SC?

If you commit a crime in the process of attempting a citizen’s arrest and it is not justified by one of the two SC statutes linked to above, you may end up getting arrested and charged with a crime yourself.

What crimes could you be charged with?

  • Kidnapping (up to a 30-year penalty);
  • Assault and battery (the level of the offense will depend on the situation and how badly the person was hurt);
  • Attempted murder;
  • Manslaughter; or
  • Murder.

Whether you can be charged with a crime and what that charge would be will depend on the facts of the situation – did the person actually commit a crime? Or, did you have a reasonable basis to believe that they committed a crime?

Did they resist, and, if so, did you injure or kill them? What kind of injuries did they suffer, and did you use excessive force under the circumstances? If there is violence, were you defending yourself or defending another person?

Can I Be Sued for Making a Citizens’ Arrest in SC?

The possible “torts,” or civil causes of action that you can be sued for, may include:

  • Kidnapping;
  • Assault and battery;
  • Wrongful death;
  • Negligence;
  • Gross negligence; or
  • Intentional conduct (which may allow the person to get punitive damages against you).

Like potential criminal charges, whether you have a defense to a civil lawsuit will depend on the facts of the case, including whether the person committed a crime and whether you acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Citizen’s arrests are fraught with danger – if you have been charged with a crime following a citizen’s arrest, do not speak to authorities and do not answer questions until you have consulted with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your situation.

Call Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message to speak with a SC citizen’s arrest and self-defense lawyer today.