SC Law on Citizen’s Arrest

Can you make a citizen’s arrest in SC?

People across the country are complaining about Stand Your Ground laws and how they encourage the murder of people of color by white vigilantes… these people complaining have clearly not seen SC’s citizen’s arrest laws.

SC law does authorize citizen’s arrests, and, in many cases, it also authorizes “citizen’s killings,” allowing a person to kill their suspect when the darkness and probability of escape make the killing efficient and necessary…

Disclaimer: Although everything you will read below is true, this is commentary. This is not legal advice. Whenever possible, you should consult a criminal defense attorney for advice specific to your situation before making a citizen’s arrest.

Do not make a citizen’s arrest unless you have no other option. Do not kill people who look suspicious after dark. If you follow SC’s laws on citizen’s arrests, there is a very good chance that you will be hurt, killed, arrested, charged with kidnapping or murder, and sued in civil court.

What is a Citizen’s Arrest?

SC authorizes two types of citizen’s arrest:

First, in the daytime, you can arrest a person and take them to a magistrate. And, presumably, if they resist and you kill them, that would be self-defense because your attempt to kidnap them is legal and justified.

Second, after dark, you can just kill the person. It’s more efficient, it may be rendered necessary by the possibility of escape, and it is legal and justified under SC law.

17-13-10 – Citizen’s Arrest in SC

SC Code § 17-13-10 says that any person can arrest someone and take them to a judge or magistrate, if:

  • You have information that a felony has been committed, or
  • You witnessed a larceny being committed.

Upon (a) view of a felony committed, (b) certain information that a felony has been committed or (c) view of a larceny committed, any person may arrest the felon or thief and take him to a judge or magistrate, to be dealt with according to law.

You would think that, if you had information that a felony had been committed, the police would expect you to call them and let them know so they can make the arrest.

17-13-10, however, permits any person to make an arrest if they have information that a felony has been committed or if they witness a larceny.

How are you going to make an arrest, though? Do you have handcuffs ready to go for a citizen’s arrest? Will you hogtie them and drag them to the magistrate’s office? If you did, how do you think the magistrate would react?

Will you hold them at gunpoint until you arrive at the magistrate’s office? I recommend not walking into the magistrate court with a handgun pointed at someone if you want to live…

What if they attempt to escape? Or if they resist your lawful citizen’s arrest and attack you? Are you justified in physically subduing the person or killing them? If you do, are you protected by self-defense because you have a statutory right to tie up a person and deliver them to the magistrate’s office?

17-13-20 – Citizen’s License to Kill

SC Code § 17-13-20 answers some of these questions, at least when you make your citizen’s arrest in the nighttime:

A citizen may arrest a person in the nighttime by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken, when the person:

(a) has committed a felony;

(b) has entered a dwelling house without express or implied permission;

(c) has broken or is breaking into an outhouse with a view to plunder;

(d) has in his possession stolen property; or

(e) being under circumstances which raise just suspicion of his design to steal or to commit some felony, flees when he is hailed.

When Does a Citizen’s Arrest in SC Allow You to Kill a Person?

As long as the sun has gone down, you can kill a person as part of your citizen’s arrest if they:

  • Committed a felony,
  • Entered anyone’s house without permission,
  • Broke into anyone’s storage shed,
  • Have stolen property in their possession, or
  • Look like they are going to steal something or commit “some felony,” and they run away from you.

Committed a Felony

If you are making your citizen’s arrest after dark, the plain, unambiguous language of 17-13-20 authorizes you to kill a person (…by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken) if that person has committed a felony.

It doesn’t say if you witnessed them committing a felony. So, taking 17-13-20 in conjunction with 17-13-10, if you have information that a person has committed a felony, you can wait until after dark to make your citizen’s arrest, and then you can just kill them. That should be much easier than hogtying them and carrying them to a magistrate.

Enters Any Home Without Permission

17-13-20 says that, if a person enters your home without permission, you can kill them. Not just your home – if you see someone enter any “dwelling house” without permission after dark, you can shoot them in the head as part of your citizen’s arrest.

Breaks into any Storage Building

It’s not just a “dwelling house,” though. If someone breaks into a storage building in the yard, you can kill them.

It’s not just your storage building – according to the plain language of this statute, if you see someone break into any storage building in anyone’s yard, even if you’re just driving down the road when you see it, you can stop, accost them, and shoot them in the head so long as it’s after dark.

Stolen Property in Their Possession

If someone has stolen property in their possession after dark, you can kill them.

I’m not sure how you will know the property is stolen, but if it’s obviously stolen, or if they admit the property is stolen, you can “by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken,” make a citizen’s arrest (kill them).

If Someone “Looks Like They are Going to Steal Something”

The last, most comprehensive, and most ambiguous circumstance when you can legally kill someone in SC is when, after dark, they look like they are going to steal something. It’s also okay to kill them if they look like they are about to commit “some felony.”

In either case, you need to first say something like, “Hey! What the Hell are you doing!?” Then, if they run, you can shoot them in the back to prevent their escape.

You Could be Batman


You could build an underground lair, stock it with high tech electronics including police scanners, make friends with a few law enforcement types, outfit yourself with legal weapons and gadgetry to help you locate, subdue, restrain, and, when it is efficient and necessary due to the darkness, kill criminals.

SC’s citizen’s arrest laws make this possible. If you are careful about it, follow SC’s citizen’s arrest laws, and record every incident in case of disputes over the facts, you could be a full-time superhero-type vigilante and it would be perfectly legal in SC.

You won’t have to prove their guilt in court, and never mind constitutional protections (you aren’t the government), probable cause, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

If they look suspicious and they run when you confront them, if they are leaving someone’s home or storage building, or if you have information that they committed a felony, you can be cop, judge, jury, and executioner right there on the spot.

It’s legal.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach, SC

The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.

If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.