Court cites citizen's arrest statute in overturning convictions
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Posted by: Joe Menden
The Montana Supreme Court reversed negligent endangerment and reckless driving convictions for a man who invoked the state's citizen's arrest statute.
The city of Helena prosecuted Parsons after he pulled his pickup and towed boat trailer across a main thoroughfare in Helena in March 2016 to block the escape of a motorcyclist fleeing from Helena police in an extended high-speed chase through the city. The motorcyclist was injured and then immediately apprehended by police after losing control and crashing at the roadblock.
In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Helena Municipal Court erroneously refused to instruct the jury and allow evidence and argument on the authority of private citizens to make a citizen’s arrest as a factual consideration, among others, under the totality of the circumstances in determining whether Parsons committed the charged offenses as alleged. The case was remanded for a new trial.
The court noted, however, that it was not holding or suggesting that the authority to make
a citizen’s arrest provides or implies either a right to interfere or intervene in official law enforcement operations or immunity from criminal liability for independently defined criminal offenses.
Justice Dirk Sandefur wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Laurie McKinnon, and Ingrid Gustafson and District Court Judge Luke Berger, sitting for Justice Jim Rice.
Justice Beth Baker asserted in her dissent that the citizen’s arrest statute does not authorize an individual like Parsons to inject himself into an active police pursuit, saying that a private citizen does not have the right to take it upon himself to secure the arrest of a suspect if a law enforcement officer already is at the scene. Chief Justice Mike McGrath and District Court Judge Yvonne Laird, sitting for Justice James Jeremiah Shea, joined the dissent.