Citizen's Arrest in Colorado - CRS 16-3-201

Who can make a citizen’s arrest in Colorado?

Top Denver criminal defense attorney discusses citizen’s arrests in Colorado. Learn more about Colorado Legal Defense Group at…

CRS 16-3-201
is the Colorado statute that allows private people to make a citizen's arrest. The law gives normal citizens the ability to detain someone committing a crime. The law only allows people to make an arrest if they see the crime happening. If you make an arrest that does not abide by CRS 16-3-201, you can be charged with a crime.


  • Jim sees Jerry grab an old lady's purse. Jim tackles Jerry and throws him to the ground.
  • Frank sees a commotion in a store. Someone says a man is robbing the store, so Frank tackles him. Frank was not present for the crime, so he could be charged with a crime.

Legal defenses

Anyone accused of violating Colorado's citizen's arrest law can raise a legal defense. A successful legal defense can mitigate the penalties of a conviction. They can also lead to an acquittal or force the charges to be dropped. Common defenses include:


The penalties for violating CRS 16-3-201 depend on what happened. You could be charged with one of several crimes, including:

You could also be sued by the person you arrested.

If you have been accused of violating CRS 16-3-201, you need a Colorado criminal defense attorney. In this article, they explain:

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1. When can one make a citizen's arrest in Colorado?

In Colorado, CRS 16-3-201 is the statute that defines a citizen's arrest. The law expressly allows people who are not police officers to make an arrest. These private citizens can make an arrest if a crime happens in their presence. They can use reasonable force while making this arrest.

The law immunizes private citizens from crimes that would typically follow from the force they use to make the arrest.

1.1 What does it mean to be in the presence of the citizen?

CRS 16-3-201 only allows for a citizen's arrest if a crime was committed in the presence of the person making the arrest.

A crime is considered to be in the presence of a citizen if they can directly see or sense it. It is also in a citizen's presence there is enough evidence to suggest the crime is ongoing or just completed.

Examples of a crime happening in the presence of a citizen include:

  • David is in the lobby of a police station. Ray gets away from the police and runs, which is a crime. David hears someone yelling “stop that man!” and tackles him in a fight.1
  • A security guard sees Roseanne leaving with a large coat covering a typewriter. The guard tells her to sit down and keeps her from leaving. He calls the police.2

Examples of a crime happening outside the citizen's presence include:

Ken and his son learn that their neighbor robbed a store. They break into his apartment, put handcuffs on him, and bring him to the police.3

1.2 Does the law apply to off-duty police officers?

Anyone who is not an on-duty police officer is considered a private citizen. This means off-duty police officers can make citizen's arrests. It also means a law enforcement officer outside his own jurisdiction can make a citizen's arrest.

Example: Ralph is an undercover police officer. He arrests a store owner for buying stolen items. Ralph does not realize that the store is 12 feet over the town line. The arrest is a citizen's arrest under CRS 16-3-201.4

1.3 How much force can you use while making a citizen's arrest?

CRS 18-1-707(7) says how much force can be used during a citizen's arrest.

A citizen can use non-deadly force to make a citizen's arrest. This non-deadly force has to be reasonable and appropriate to the situation, though. It cannot be more than what is reasonably believed to be necessary to make the arrest or prevent an escape.

A citizen can only use deadly force to make a citizen's arrest in very rare cases. They have to reasonably think deadly force is necessary to defend themselves or someone else from deadly harm.

Example: David is standing in the lobby of the police station when Ray runs past. David hears someone shout “stop that man!” Rather than running after Ray, David draws a pistol and shoots him. David's citizen's arrest has used excessive force.

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2. Common legal defenses to a charge under CRS 16-3-201

There are legal defenses to a charge of violating CRS 16-3-201. Some of the most common include:

  • You acted out of necessity,
  • You acted out of self-defense or for the defense of someone else, and
  • You were acting under the direction of a police officer.

A claim that you violated CRS 16-3-201 will also come with other criminal charges. Depending on which additional charges these are, there may be other legal defenses.

2.1 Necessity

A common defense to a charge of a wrongful citizen's arrest is that you acted out of necessity.

To prove a defense of necessity, you have to show that your wrongful citizen's arrest was only to prevent a worse thing from happening. This requires evidence that shows:

  • There was a risk of imminent harm that you did not cause,
  • You acted to prevent that harm, and
  • You had no other legal options at your disposal.5

2.2 Self-defense or the defense of someone else

You can also defend against a charge under CRS 16-3-201 by arguing you only acted to defend yourself or someone else. While this defense admits that the citizen's arrest was a wrongful one, it claims your conduct was still justified.

Proving that you acted in this way requires evidence that:

  • You thought the person you arrested was about to use unlawful force,
  • You used only as much force as you thought was necessary to protect against that force, and
  • Both of those thoughts are reasonable.

The only difference between self-defense and the defense of others is who you thought was about to get hurt.

2.3 You were helping a police officer

A police officer can command a citizen to help them make an arrest under CRS 16-3-202. If you were helping an officer make an arrest, this statute protects you. CRS 16-3-202(3) makes you immune to a criminal charge or civil lawsuit for doing anything you are told to do.

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3. Penalties for violating CRS 16-3-201

There are no penalties for violating CRS 16-3-201 and making a wrongful citizen's arrest. However, other criminal charges can be filed against you for an incorrect citizen's arrest. You can also be sued by the person you arrested.

The penalties of these criminal charges can be significant. They can include thousands of dollars in fines and years in jail.

Example: George punches Mike during a citizen's arrest for a robbery. However, the crime was not committed in George's presence. George gets charged for first-degree assault and false imprisonment.

If the person you wrongly arrested files a civil lawsuit, it can make you pay thousands of dollars in compensation, as well.

Example: George gets convicted for first-degree assault and false imprisonment for his wrongful citizen's arrest. Mike then sues George for assault and battery, as well as for false imprisonment.

4. Offenses that are related to citizen's arrest charges

Violating CRS 16-3-201 often comes with other criminal charges related to the wrongful arrest.

4.1 First-degree assault

The most common criminal charge related to a wrongful citizen's arrest is first-degree assault.

First-degree assault (CRS 18-3-202) makes it illegal to intentionally and seriously hurt someone. Making a citizen's arrest is something you do intentionally. Therefore, any serious injuries you inflict during the arrest can amount to assault in the first degree.

4.2 Second-degree assault

Another very common related offense is second-degree assault.

Second-degree assault (CRS 18-3-203) makes it illegal to intentionally hurt someone. Unlike assault in the first degree, though, it does not involve serious injuries. If you hurt the person you were trying to arrest, you can face second-degree assault charges if the injuries you caused were not serious.

4.3 False imprisonment

Wrongful citizen's arrests often lead to criminal charges for false imprisonment.

False imprisonment (CRS 18-3-303) makes it illegal to detain someone without their consent. If you trap, hold down, or detain the person you were arresting, it can lead to a charge of false imprisonment.

Example: Ken and his son wrongly arrest their neighbor for a robbery. After breaking into the neighbor's apartment and handcuffing him, they decide to wait for the police to arrive.

4.4 Kidnapping

If you wrongly make a citizen's arrest and move the suspect to a new place, you can be charged with kidnapping.

Colorado's laws against kidnapping (CRS 18-3-301 and CRS 18-3-302) are similar to false imprisonment laws. However, kidnapping makes it illegal to detain and then move someone without their consent.

Example: Ken and his son conduct a wrongful citizen's arrest on their neighbor. They break into his apartment and handcuff him. Then they force him into their car and bring him to the police.

Call us for help...

For legal representation on any criminal matter, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. For cases in California or Nevada, please see our pages on Penal Code 837 - citizen's arrests in California and NRS 171.126 - citizen's arrests in Nevada.

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Call us for help at (303) 222-0330

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