Beware of the Private Citizen: Vigilantes & Citizens’ Arrest

August 1, 2017 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Beware of the Private Citizen: Vigilantes & Citizens’ Arrest

Private citizens can act as police officers when you least expect it. Texas’s law allows private citizens to help the police capture a person. Seems illogical, but it’s all legal. Therefore, you must beware of the vigilante; the person who is out for justice and will find it at any cost. This vigilante can arrest you as long as he plays by the same rules by which the police must play. If they do not, what can happen? Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Brandon Fulgham knows that when ordinary citizens stick their nose where it does not belong, good things can happen for his clients.

If police violate a person’s constitutional rights, then the evidence obtained in violation of those rights must be thrown out of court, otherwise known as suppressed. Suppression of evidence for violation of a person’s constitutional rights is required by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and Texas statute. The relevant statute provides that evidence seized by a police officer “or any other person” in violation of Texas law, the Texas Constitution, or the U.S. Constitution may not be used in evidence against a defendant in a criminal case. Texas courts apply the same rules to private citizens as they do law enforcement. Courts have ruled that if a non-police officer obtains evidence unlawfully, then the exclusionary rule applies. However, if the vigilante obtains evidence lawfully, it may be used against the person at trial. For example, if a person is lawfully in a place and takes evidence that appears to be incriminating, not with the intent to steal, but with the intent to deliver it to the police who are engaged in an investigation, then the seizure is lawful. On the other hand, if a person breaks into a location without lawful authority and takes evidence, then that evidence must be suppressed.

Beware of the Private Citizen Vigilantes & Citizens’ Arrest

Private citizens may assist the police in other ways. Citizens are permitted to make arrests in certain circumstances even without a warrant. A private citizen may make an arrest if an offense is committed in his “presence or within his view” if the crime is a felony or a breach of the peace. Breach of the peace has a distinct meaning. Texas courts have construed “breach of the peace” in this context to mean that the person’s conduct threatens continuing violence or may do harm to himself or another person. Thus, the courts interpret an exigency, or emergency, must exist at the time the arrest for a misdemeanor is made.

The time in which a person may effect that arrest is limited. Time is limited to when the offense was committed or if there is a continuing threat of violence. A citizen does not have the right to pursue and apprehend to make an arrest unless there is an on-going threat. There is an exception to that rule, however. A person may pursue a thief to prevent loss of property and escape of the thief. In a recent case, however, the court did not suppress evidence obtained by a citizen who made an arrest even though the citizen broke the traffic laws while trying to stop the person in flight. In that case, a tow truck driver chased a person whom he suspected was driving while intoxicated after personally observing facts that gave him probable cause to believe the person was drunk. The driver fled the scene of a car crash. The court reasoned that the person’s flight was a breach of the peace and was a danger to others because he was recklessly driving.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Ready, Willing, and Able to Fight For Your Rights

Former Tarrant County prosecutor Brandon Fulgham prides himself on defending his clients when their rights have been violated.  If you are the victim of vigilante justice, you may have a good argument to get the case thrown out of court. Call Attorney Fulgham today at 817-764-1392 to schedule your no-obligation consultation today and begin to take back your rights.


1. Miles v. State, 241 SW 3d 28 (Tx. Crim. App. 2007).

Share this

You Might Be Also Interested In