Legal liability for civilians who "help out" cops (without permission)

So I was watching cop dashcam/body-cam videos and wondered what would happen if, during one of those high-speed car chases, a civilian saw what was going on and decided to “helpfully” ram the fugitive’s vehicle on the highway so as to allow the cops to catch the perp. (Assuming the cops don’t ask for and don’t want such “help.”)

Would the civilian face charges for assault or something, just like as if he had rammed a completely innocent pedestrian?

Pretty sure cops take a dim view of any civilians interfering.

Right, but what are the legal consequences?

The legal consequences would be whatever the consequences usually are for ramming another vehicle with your car.

He’d face whatever charges you get from ramming a vehicle without justification in that jurisdiction. It’s all going to be state or local law so there’s lots of specific answers, and it also depends on whether anyone gets injured or dies. There isn’t anything special about the situation that would involve any particular legal principle or law.

The principle of citizen’s arrest doesn’t come into play? Maybe not in the ramming situation, but say a civilian sees a cop chasing someone down the street and he steps out and grabs the guy and detains him until the cop catches up. Is he liable for assault or false imprisonment or something?

If they treat it as an accident, then they may or may not issue a motor vehicle citation, if they treat it as an ‘on-purpose’ then I presume they could arrest the civilian for assault.

the rule for citizen’s arrest is commonly cited as - “don’t arrest unless you saw the crime.” the same would apply here. Interfere at your peril. What if the lead vehicle you ram turns out to be an undercover cop also in pursuit? Unlikely but how do you know? what if the guy you tackle is another “helpful good Samaritan” and you break his arm? What if you kill the perp and he can’t tell where the kidnap victim is buried and time is running out? What if the police were chasing an innocent guy who was running away because of parking tickets?

If you don’t know, leave it up to the pros.

I presume your legal and civil liabilities are no different than any other such action. That you were trying to help might be a mitigating circumstance, but you still assume all liability for any actions you do.

Criminal charges like assault or false imprisonment would have to be brought by the local prosecutor – the same one who will be prosecuting that criminal that the citizen helped catch. And the same prosecutor who depends in all his court cases on the testimony of local police, like those that were helped by this citizen. No sensible local prosecutor would ever bring charges against a helpful citizen. Even if he did, most juries wouldn’t convict.

The caught criminal could bring a civil lawsuit against the citizen (anybody can sue anybody for anything). But what would he sue for? Medical costs for injuries? The jail doctor probably treated them, at taxpayer cost, no cost to the criminal. Loss of income, because otherwise he would have gotten away with his stolen loot? Not likely. Some states have ‘good Samaritan’ laws, which may give the citizen immunity. But in the end, a Judge or Jury would be very unlikely to rule in the criminals’ favor.

Here in Texas running from cops in a vehicle is a crime all by itself, so if you see them doing it your witnessing a felony in progress. Running on foot is a misdemeanor I believe.

If a guy with parking tickets is running in a vehicle he’s both not innocent and incredibly stupid.

Regarding the OP, I have seen videos online where a semi-truck driver ended a pursuit by turning his truck to cross both lanes & the shoulder just as the criminals’ car got alongside him. The pursuing police caught him, and offered great thanks to the truck driver.

In another video, 2 semi-drivers had a fleeing criminal driving on the lane between them – they both drove inward, trapping his car between their converging trucks. Again, the pursuing police were very appreciative.

Years ago my dad saw a drunk driver. He forced him off the road. He went up to the car and told the guy “Don’t move. We’re waiting for the police.” A police officer showed up and, before he took the guy away, told my dad, “Don’t EVER do that again.”

Many states limit citizen’s arrest powers such that if the crime at issue was only a misdemeanor, the citizen can only arrest if the citizen actually saw it happen. In the OP’s question, it seems clear that the citizen did not see the original crime. As others have noted, flight from the police can itself be a crime, but I would be leery of trying to make an untutored decision as to whether someone is committing misdemeanor vs. felony flight.

Moreover, as a gross generalization, a police officer arresting someone has a defense of qualified immunity against mistake of fact. In other words, if the police officer is acting based on probable cause, she can forcibly detain someone and not face liability even if that suspect turns out to be the wrong person. If I – an intrepid but ordinary citizen – decide to help the police by forcibly detaining someone, I might be able to establish a defense of justification if it turns out to be the right suspect, but if it’s the wrong person, I’m not sure that I would have any defense against civil liability (and criminal charges).

And then, of course, my use of force has to be reasonable under the circumstances.

This assumes that the person you cut off or trip is in fact running from the cops.

I’m not cutting off or tripping anyone and I wouldn’t recommend it either. I’m not even sure I was assuming. If I see some one running from the cops in Texas am I not witnessing a crime in progress?


Peter Parker, is that you?:eek::smiley:

Here just a few weeks ago a few blocks from my house a police officer was shot during a traffic stop, and a civilian with a concealed carry license ended up shooting along with the cop’s partner at the suspect. The Cicero police were quoted to say they were “lucky” to have the civilian on hand returning fire, so looks like sometimes, they don’t mind at all.

Wait. What?

I wonder if “Bill” was rewarded with on-camera praises and free coffees for a month by the local cops, and or quietly pulled aside and warned to never do that again…

I believe in many jurisdictions intentionally hitting somebody with a car is considered deadly force. Ramming somebody with your car is like taking out your gun and shooting them.

Deadly force isn’t authorized for all crimes. In some jurisdictions you can use deadly force to catch a murderer but you can’t use it to catch a guy with a speeding ticket.

When you see the police chasing somebody, you don’t know what crime it is he (allegedly) committed. So you don’t know if deadly force can be used to catch him.

Even if the guy is a serious criminal like an escaped convict who’s committed a dozen murders and is on his way to assassinate the pope, deadly force is only justified if there are no reasonable alternatives. So you’re going to have to show in court that you saw the police chasing somebody and you somehow were able to determine that they had no means of catching him and he was going to get away unless you hit him with your car or shot him.