Alright, let’s get some definitional issues out of the way, first: an arrest is taking a person into custody, in the manner prescribed by law (this part is important) (I’m not going to cite PC 834, because its too late at night for me to look it up . . . dammit, I just did. But its the last cite you will see in this post.) Our system, however, has changed the real definition of arrest- when MC pulls you over for yapping on your telephone, he is TECHNICALLY arresting you. Rather than putting you in bracelets and hauling you to the station, he issues a citation and lets you go. This is actually an arrest with a release based on a promise to appear (that’s why you sign the ticket- without the John Hancock, he would actually need to take physical custody.)
Nobody thinks of a ticket as an arrest, but that’s what it is. Remember the “manner prescribed by law”? Cops can’t actually haul a compliant traffic offender in, because the law says that a cop must let the offender go on a promise to appear for minor traffic violations.
Now, about that citizen’s arrest thing: here in California, citizens have almost the same powers as cops- its true! Here’s an example: I have a concealed carry permit. Its not because I’m a Deputy DA, its because I applied for one as a citizen and was granted one by the sheriff. If I’m cruising along and see a man going after somebody with a knife, and its reasonably obvious that he intends to cut his victim, I can draw on the perp and, if he does not comply with my demands to drop the knife, I am committing no crime by blowing his head off. Just like a cop. 830.1, the statute that defines what it means to be a cop (OK, I cited another one, but its so common among LE personnel that its generic, like xerox and google,) allows peace officers to openly carry a loaded weapon, but does not allow them to use that weapon in any manner that is different than a private citizen. Cops can’t shoot or brandish for no reason. A cop that whips his gun out and points it at a little old lady just to be a dick is guilty of 417 just as much as an average Joe (DAMMIT- I just can’t help it!)
(Nothing said here should be taken to mean I have even a fraction of the training peace officers get in the carriage and employment of firearms. I carry one to deal with an immediate threat that finds me as a last resort, but cops have to GO TO the threat and deal with it. That’s why we give them guns, pay them to practice with them, and let them carry those guns virtually anywhere.)
When it comes to arrests, citizens have the same rights as cops. BUT- cops have protections citizens don’t. If a cop arrests you for an infraction, no matter how stupid and ridiculous, as long as a custodial arrest is not specifically prohibited, resisting that cop is a misdemeanor (which is a brand-new charge, to wit, PC 148 et seq- CRAP- OK, so my brain has been altered- bite me, or at least try- remember, I’m packin’.)
This means that if a cop arrests you, and you fight back or even simply refuse to cooperate, you are committing a new crime, and the cop is authorized to “persuade” you, perhaps with blunt force trauma or Edison’s Medicine (Dear God, I love Tasers. A police report with a Taser deployment puts a smile on my face every. damn. time.,) if reasonable. Citizens DO NOT have that protection. A citizen can therefore be PROSECUTED for false imprisonment or assault or battery if said citizen attempts to arrest someone.
A citizen’s arrest has been found to be legitimate when a man pointed at a dude and said “That’s him.” Here is a hypothetical: you are chillin’ downtown, listenin’ to your iPhone and mindin’ your own. You see some shithead spraypaint a tag on the wall. Cop walks around the corner, sees the wet paint, and looks pissed off, so you point at the tagger and say “That’s him.” Congratulations, you just made an arrest. Its obvious what the crime is (vandalism) and you have identified the perp. That’s all it takes in California.
So getting to the point (hey, quality takes time): Cleanville, if you see MC blow a stop sign, you can “arrest” MC by filing a sworn affidavit and submitting it to the DA’s office (and they will get a hearty laugh and toss your affidavit in the nearest receptacle, but only after e-mailing it to the entire department and mocking you for being a pathetic dumbass.) But if you attempt to detain him with force, he will no doubt create a cheek-pavement interface, and will be legally entitled to do so.
As to the question of Misdo v. Infraction? I think MC is wrong- a citizen CAN arrest another citizen for an infraction. But since the code does not allow for a custodial arrest for most traffic crimes, the citizen would have to swear an affidavit or appear in person to a DA and ask the DA to take the case. Remember that police do not prosecute crimes- DAs do. Police are only entitled to remand into custody based on probable cause, but the arrestee must be arraigned within 72 hours of the arrest (if the defendant is in custody.). That means a Deputy DA must review the police reports and file a complaint within 3 days of the arrest, or the defendant cannot be incarcerated.
DA’s delegate some of their authority to the police, and allow for direct filing of certain less-important violations with the courts. For example, your speeding ticket was never reviewed by a DA. The cop sent it to the court, and the court proceeds. The DA doesn’t get involved (usually.) But a DA can always file a complaint, based on any information that meets legal and ethical standards. So if you are in your car, with a video camera, and you tape your TomTom saying that you are doing the limit at 55, and you tape some dude blowing past you, and the plate is evident on the tape, I can totally charge that case, even if you never called the cops. Would I? Fuck no- I have over 300 active cases right now, ranging from driving on a suspended license to manslaughter, with 5 new cases coming in every business day. I’m simply NOT going to give a shit about a dude in a Maserati doing 80. But you have the right to send the letter.
The ultimate point is (Dude! I have one!) is that you should totally sign a statement describing somebody’s bad behavior and request criminal charges if you see somebody breaking the law, unless that perp is doing something that is going to immediately injure somebody else’s physical person- then feel free to do the hero thing. However, unless somebody is going to die or potentially get seriously fucked up, wait until you can find a cop and ask for a CA (Citizen’s arrest) form. Anything less would be uncivilized.