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Are “Citizen’s Arrests” Permissible in Misdemeanor Cases?

Misdemeanor offenses like theft or a first-time DWI may not carry the same potential for lengthy prison sentences as felonies in Texas. But any kind of criminal conviction will have a negative impact on your life. For instance, aside from the criminal record itself, a DWI conviction can lead to the loss of your driving privileges.

Houston Court Affirms DWI Conviction Based on Security Guard’s Actions

We normally associate criminal arrests with sworn police officers who are trained in the proper procedures for detaining and questioning a suspect. So you may be surprised to learn that “citizens’ arrests” are actually permitted in Texas. More precisely, under Section 14.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that any person may “may, without a warrant, arrest an offender when the offense is committed in his presence or within his view.” And according to a 2007 decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, this includes the right to conduct a citizen’s’ arrest for a misdemeanor “if the evidence shows that the person’s conduct poses a threat of continuing violence or harm to himself or the public.”

Recently, an appeals court here in Houston upheld a misdemeanor DWI conviction arising from a citizens’ arrest. In this case, the defendant’s car was blocking the driveway of a home located in a wealthy Houston neighborhood during the early morning hours. A private security guard hired by the neighborhood association noticed the car and observed the defendant drive “off the street and over a curb for a distance of approximately 40 yards.”

The security guard approached the vehicle after it came to a stop. He observed the defendant “laid over in the driver’s seat.” When she regained consciousness, he proceeded to ask her some questions. He instructed her to remain in the vehicle. The guard was not a sworn police officer, but he contacted the Houston Police Department and “kept an eye” on the defendant until they arrived. The guard later testified in court that while he did not “physically detain” the defendant, he did take her car keys so she could not drive away.

When the Houston police arrived, they spoke with the defendant, who made several incriminating statements. A chemical test subsequently confirmed she had been driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit in Texas. She was subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted of a Class B misdemeanor DWI.

On appeal, the defendant argued the evidence of her DWI all arose from an illegal citizen’s arrest by the security guard. The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals disagreed. Noting that “Texas courts have long accepted DWI as an offense that is by its nature one against the public peace,” a citizen’s arrest is permissible when a private person has “probable cause” to believe the defendant was drunk driving. The 14th District said the security guard in this case had such probable cause, rendering the arrest and conviction lawful.

Speak With a Misdemeanor Defense Lawyer First

It should be noted that citizen’s arrests are subject to the same constitutional rules of due process as a police arrest. In other words, a private person has no right to conduct a warrantless search of your car or try to “force” a confession out of you. But the possibility of citizen’s arrest also means that you should always be careful when speaking to anyone who suspects you of committing a crime. Remember you have the right to remain silent and seek assistance from a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you are facing a misdemeanor charge and need to schedule a consultation right away.