The New York Criminal Law Blog

Citizens Tackle iPhone Thief: The Law of Citizens' Arrests

iPhone theft is pretty common in NYC. That shouldn’t surprise ti most people, as the devices cost about $500 on the Internet fence formally known as craigslist. What is slightly less common is iPhone theft in the middle of the day.

Now, the stereotype of the New Yorker is one of a callous, self-absorbed, and apathetic type. New Yorkers just don’t care, right?


After Noah Udell, 26, allegedly attempted to wrestle an iPhone out of 23-year-old Erika Silva’s hands, bystanders Chase Bunn and Brian Hester chased him down, reports the New York Post. After Bunn hurt his knee in the pursuit, Hester continued the chase and protected the thief from other angry bystanders.

See, New Yorkers really love their iPhones.

However, Udell reportedly took off again, leading Hester to chase him down again. Hester held him until the police arrived.

So what’s the deal with citizens’ arrests?

For one, they are stupid. We all applaud when citizens do these things, but seriously, you have no idea who this perp is. He could be anything from an idiot high schooler on summer break, to bath-salted psychopath with a butterfly knife tucked into his boot. It’s risky.

However, citizens’ arrests are fully legal. Under New York CPL. LAW ยง 140.30, a citizen is privileged to make an arrest for someone who has in fact committed a felony, or for any offense, including iPhone theft, when the offense has happened in an amateur crimefighter’s presence and the arrest is made within the same county.

In plain English, that means if you saw the minor offense, you can arrest the offender without legal repurcussions. No long-distance chases, however. For felonies, feel free to arrest them anywhere in New York.

However, make citizens arrests at your own risk. If they are innocent, or if you dont’ use reasonable force, you could be liable in a false imprisonment or battery lawsuit and possibly even face criminal charges. Perhaps fulfillment of the apathetic stereotype is the best strategy.

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