Here’s What A Bouncer Can Legally Do To You When Confronted

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A video of a bouncer allegedly responding to an attack has gone viral.

The video, which was taken in a bar in Liverpool, England, seems to show a bouncer striking a woman in the face after she became violent.

That has led to a debate online. The primary question: Was the bouncer within his rights, or will he face charges?


We can’t speak on how the situation will play out in the United Kingdom (although several U.K. publications have indicated that the man could possibly face charges). However, in the United States, the law is pretty clear.

Here’s what bouncers can (and can’t) do.

They can use force, but only in certain circumstances.

A bouncer cannot use force on a patron—unless the patron gets physical first. In other words, the bouncer will never throw the first punch.


Most are trained to avoid punches in the first place; bouncers will generally try to use holds to incapacitate violent patrons to avoid injuring them. That’s because injuring patrons is bad for business, even if they’re unruly, and opens up establishments to civil litigation.

Generally, they’re bound to using equal force.

Technically, if a patron takes a swing at a bouncer, the bouncer can respond in kind. However, the bouncer can’t use excessive force under any circumstances. The actual wording of most laws is something like this (provided from NYU Law, link opens as a document):”…[a] person is privileged to use such force as reasonably appears necessary to defend him or herself against an apparent threat of unlawful and immediate violence from another.”


This is where things get sticky. The bouncer must be able to show in a court of law that his use of force was justified and appropriate—which is why most bouncers will err on the side of safety and avoid a physical confrontation by all possible means.

They can break up fights.

If a fight is happening on the premises, the bouncer can break it up, even if nobody throws a punch at him. This is because the bouncer is defending the other patrons. Again, he’s bound by the general rule of equal force, so he can’t run in with a baseball bat or another object.


When the fight’s broken up, the bouncer will usually kick the offending parties out of the establishment. However, that’s not always the case: Sometimes, he’ll make an arrest.

They can arrest you…sometimes.

Actually, any private citizen can perform an arrest, provided that the arrest is for a felony that has already taken place, or is in the process of taking place.

That last part is important. Let’s say that a bouncer sees a person starting to assault another person. The bouncer can detain the criminal until the police arrive, using the authority of a citizen’s arrest as pretext. However, a bouncer can’t perform this same arrest if he merely suspects someone of committing a crime, or if the crime is relatively minor (for instance, buying alcohol while under the legal drinking age).

If the bouncer does perform an arrest, he must contact the police as soon as possible. However, he doesn’t have to explain what he’s doing, provided that he has valid cause.

Ultimately, bouncers are just private citizens—they’re bound by the same laws as everyone else, and even if they’re wearing fancy uniforms, they don’t have any special privileges. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t recommend testing them.

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