As we did earlier with T. Scotch Reynolds and Mr. Johnson, we occasionally highlight innovative practices by innovative attorneys we’ve come across during our law practice marketing and rebranding seminars. One attorney we recently met is Helen Calistero, a California attorney who is considered one of the foremost authorities on citizens’ arrest law. We recently had the chance to sit down with Helen to talk shop.
Helen: The common law doctrine of citizen’s arrest goes back to medieval Europe. It relates to the ability of an ordinary person to detain a person who has committed a crime.
Chank: Any crime? Even, say, insider trading or making an illegal U turn, like when Gomer Pyle did a nine-eleven on Barney Fife?
Helen: No, no, not any crime. In most states, it must be a felony. In only some states can it be a misdemeanor.
Chank: So, just so I understand, if I see my intern Greg here on the computer doing his usual big bucks insider trading on eTrade, I can just go over to him and say “Dude, you’re under arrest. Put your hands up where I can see them or I’ll blow your head off.”
Helen: Could you put that gun down?
Chank: Sorry, it’s not loaded. But, honestly, is that what I do, no gun of course, just say “Dude, you’re under arrest. Identify yourself, miscreant!”
Helen. Somewhat. Just to be clear, in most states you cannot use force. Though in some states– thankfully no longer– you could kill a fleeing felon even while making a citizens arrest.
Chank: Seriously? Wow. Did you get to kill anyone? Actually, how long have you been practicing citizen’s arrest law?
Helen: About fourteen years. I opened up my law firm in 1997 focusing on ERISA law but gravitated toward the power of the ordinary citizen to take extraordinary steps.
Chank: Can’t really do so much of that with ERISA law. Is there citizens’ search and seizure?
Chank: How about citizens’ enhanced interrogation methods?
Helen: I think you are getting far afield. You can question someone all you want but you cannot do what is now commonly referred to as “enhanced interrogation.”
Chank: I wasn’t thinking waterboarding or anything. Most attorneys don’t have that kind of set up handy, though I do have handcuffs next to my bed. Anyway, I was thinking more like a cattle prod or maybe if I get real close and blow some chili flakes into the criminal’s eyes.
Helen: Alleged criminal. No, you can’t do that. It’s really a simple procedure. You say “stop, I am making a citizens’ arrest” and explain what you are doing. Then call the authorities.
Chank: That’s it? You must be really busy with this area.
Helen: I get by with it. I’m also a life coach.
Chank: Hey, so am I! What a coincidence. Anyway, thanks, Helen, for talking with Big Legal Brain. It’s been interesting.
Helen: Thanks, Chank. It’s been a pleasure.