8- Differences Between Penal Code §836 and Penal Code §837

There are certain significant differences between arrests made by police officers and those made by private security officers. Often, these involve subtle nuances that are difficult to understand the rationale behind the rules. However, keep in mind when learning this material that the law encourages citizens to make use of the police. Our society does not encourage “self-help” in apprehending criminals. The majority of citizens are not trained in the laws of arrest (as you are), nor do they undergo extensive training in the proper techniques in the use of force in order to effectuate lawful arrests.

For that reason, the laws in our state favor an arrest by police officers. It is much more stringent for private citizens. The law forgives police officers if they make honest, good faith mistakes. Even if they are sued civilly, they are entitled to qualified immunity for their actions so long as they acted in good faith.

You, on the other hand, do not enjoy such immunity (with the one exception of the Shopkeeper’s Privilege, discussed later). In other words, if you mistakenly arrest someone, there is no room for error. If you are wrong, you could be civilly liable. Worse yet, you could even be criminally prosecuted for your actions. The law says that “you better be right… or else!”

Thus, always keep in mind that your primary duty is not to arrest, but to observe and report, in order to be the best witness for the police and prosecution.

In the required Legal Aspects module, you were taught the elements of crimes and the levels of the offenses. For example, theft of property under $950 in value is “petty theft,” a misdemeanor. Theft of property valued at more than $950 is “grand theft,” and thus chargeable as a felony. The prosecutor, of course, would have the option in certain cases to charge the crime either as a felony or as a misdemeanor, assuming the statute allows for it.

A misdemeanor is any offense punishable by imprisonment in the county jail up to one (1) year. A felony is any crime punishable by imprisonment in the State Prison for a period of more than one year.

Some crimes are “wobblers,” meaning the prosecutor can charge the crime as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Grand theft, for example, is such a crime. Often the crime will be charged as a felony and the defendant will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.