The news that 4 people had been arrested in Iowa while trying to perform a citizen's arrest on Karl Rove got me wondering: Can we arrest Bush administration officials ourselves? So I slogged through a slew of state statutes, and as it turns out, the answer is yes. But only if you live in certain particular states.
Citizen's arrests have a long, rich tradition dating back hundreds of years. Because the power of ordinary people to help law enforcement execute its duties is important, nearly every state has some sort of statute on the books permitting citizen detentions of suspected criminals.
However, while most states allow citizen's arrests, the majority require the presence of the citizen performing the arrest during the crime. A number of states have more flexible language in their laws, though. The California Penal Code, for example says the following:
837. A private person may arrest another:
1. For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not
in his presence.
3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
A private person may arrest another when there is probable cause to believe that the person is committing or has committed an offense and the existing circumstances require the person's immediate arrest.
The dispute here will likely arise over the definition of the words "require the person's immediate arrest." I'd argue that if anyone needed to be immediately arrested, it's Karl Rove, but a Montana judge might disagree. And one of the main downsides to citizen's arrests is that if you're in the wrong, you have almost no legal protection (and depending on state law, may have committed a crime tantamount to kidnapping).
Don't let that deter you, though! If there are reasonable grounds to suspect a felony has been committed by the person arrested, then a citizen's arrest is perfectly legally justified. Just don't go and arrest the man behind the counter at the sandwich shop who gave you the wrong change.
What the four Iowans did is courageous, and is exactly how we should use the citizen arrest power. A citizen's arrest is a peaceful, lawful, old-fashioned, and charmingly Midwestern way to hold government criminals accountable. I suggest that we start a nationwide movement. We will turn any suspected government criminals over to the police. Just wait until a Bush administration official shows up in your town.
Figure out whether they can reasonably be considered guilty of a felony. Check the US Code to see who's guilty of what, and then perform a citizen's arrest.
Rove, for example, could likely be detained on suspicion of obstruction of justice, having violated Title 1, Section 18, Chapter 73, S. 1505:
Whoever corruptly... obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence [or] obstruct...the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress...[s]hall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism...imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.
I would think that one's fairly cut-and-dry. I'm not a lawyer, however, and I don't know whether this would interfere with, or be superseded by, the pending contempt of Congress citation. Still, I think it gives plenty of "reasonable suspicion," and if Rove is in California, that's all you need. You might pick up Miers or Bolton as well with that statute.
It doesn't take much perusing of the U.S. Code to find violations that administration officials are surely guilty of (the Elections and Political Activities section is one particular goldmine), and if you live in a state with lax state laws regarding citizen's arrests, detaining these people is perfectly within your right. It's just important to follow a few key steps.
1. Check your state laws first. This can be done by entering the name of your state and "statutes" into a search engine. An official online copy of existing state law will usually be the first result. The process for citizen's arrests will usually be located in the section under Crimes > Criminal Procedures > Arrests > Arrests by Private Persons, or something similar. Sometimes statutes are incredibly confusing to navigate through, but there will often be a search function somewhere on the page.
2. Check to make sure the particular person in question can be suspected of committing a felony (make sure it's a felony, though this depends on state law also).
3. Detain the person, without using physical force of any sort. Announce that you are performing a citizen's arrest, and cite the crime they are suspected of.
4. Call the police. Make sure you know the relevant citizen's arrest statute number and the U.S. Code number. You don't want to be the one being arrested.
5. This is risky, and all depends on your state. Make sure you're on solid legal ground first. It is best to consult a lawyer. WikiHow has an informative article on citizen's arrests in general.
We really ought to be inspired by the 4 courageous Iowans who dared to try to hold Rove accountable for his crimes. Government officials, no matter how high-ranking, should be prevented from even walking the street without fear of arrest, if they are guilty of a crime. Whether or not justice is done should not depend on how politically influential the accused is. If the Justice Department will not do its job, then let citizens uphold the law. Citizen's arrests are a powerful yet peaceful way to show the strength and defiance of the American people.