Taking the law into your own hands can appear heroic, noble, and good. Just look at vigilante heroes like Batman. In every movie or episode, bad guys perform criminal acts, the guy with no legal authority to intervene swoops in to save the day, and crowds cheer. Who wouldn’t want to experience the same for stopping crime?
Historically, citizen’s arrests have allowed regular, everyday people to stop crime as it happens. However, these laws have also come with controversy. Citizen’s arrest laws have recently been altered in Georgia to prevent civilians from exhibiting dangerous or abusive behavior through a citizen’s arrest.
What Is a Citizen’s Arrest?
A citizen’s arrest, occasionally referred to as a private person’s arrest, occurs when a non-authorized U.S. citizen detains another member of the public until an officer can make it to the scene.
Who Can Perform a Citizen’s Arrest?
In Georgia, citizens performing the arrest must fit certain criteria to actively detain someone suspected of a crime.
Those allowed to perform a citizen’s arrest include:
- Private detectives
- Restaurant employees
- Security guards
- Store owners
- Weight inspectors
The detainment cannot exceed one hour and cannot involve force that would lead to death or significant physical harm. If authorities cannot arrive by the end of the hour, the citizen must release the suspect immediately.
Georgia’s 2021 Revisions to Citizen’s Arrest Laws
Georgia’s citizen’s arrest laws were amended by Governor Brian Kemp in February 2021, a year after the Ahmaud Arbery case took place in Brunswick, GA. Before the case, Georgia’s citizen’s arrest laws were vague, outdated, and untouched since their origination in 1863. The original language stated that citizens could make arrests if:
- They witnessed a crime
- If they had “immediate knowledge” of a crime
- If they had “reasonable grounds” to suspect someone committed a crime
Times are far different from 1863, and modern technology like the cell phone has diminished the need for citizen’s arrest laws. Police can respond to a call within minutes rather than hours or days like in olden times. Plus, the general public receives no training in legal arrest or invoking the right kind of force for cooperation, leaving too much room for abuse or dangerous and controversial behavior.
The Ahmaud Arbery Case
On February 23, 2020, Gregory McMichael spotted Ahmaud Arbery running through a neighborhood in Glenn County, Georgia. McMichael believed Arbery to be the culprit in a series of previous, unreported break-ins and chased him by truck with his son, Travis McMichael, also in the vehicle. During the short-lived confrontation, Travis fatally shot Arbery.
In court, both McMichael men claimed they were attempting to perform a citizen’s arrest. However, each was sentenced with life imprisonment for racially motivated murder, attempted kidnapping, and brandishing or discharging a firearm during the interaction.
Changes to the Law
Due to the defendants’ arguments that they were lawfully performing a citizen’s arrest, Governor Kemp introduced revised legislation that closed several legal loopholes and now prevents bystanders or unpermitted civilians from performing these arrests.
Now, only certain people can perform an arrest for particular criminal activity, and there are limits to how long and how forceful detainment can be.
If you have experienced illegal detainment from a citizen’s arrest, speak with Bushway Law Firm immediately.