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How has Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” law been changed?

When three white men chased a young Black man named Ahmad Arbery in Feb. 2020 near Brunswick, Georgia, and one of the men fatally shot him, they claimed they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected him of burglarizing some homes in the area. The law they invoked, which dates back to the Civil War era, quickly became the subject of national and international scrutiny. 

However, the law – even as it read at the time – didn’t give citizens the right to kill based on their suspicions and there’s no evidence linking Mr. Abery to any criminal activity in the area. The Georgia law allowed a private citizen to “arrest” someone if they had “immediate knowledge” that they’d committed a crime.

Georgia’s lawmakers and governor overhauled the law

Nonetheless, it didn’t take very long after Mr. Arbery’s killing for Georgia state lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp to make significant changes to the law. Although Gov. Kemp declared that Georgia was “the first state in the country to repeal its citizen’s arrest statute,” the law is still on the books. It has, however, been significantly amended.

Under the revised law, a private person typically cannot legally detain someone, even if they’ve witnessed or been told that they committed a crime. There are exceptions for business owners, such as store owners who’ve seen someone shoplifting or restaurant owners who see someone leaving without paying, as well as for security guards.

Detaining someone by force or threat or by using violence because you think or even know that they’ve committed a crime isn’t something that private citizens should attempt to do. Not only is it dangerous, but it could land you in legal trouble. Regardless of what happens in the state trial of the men charged in the Arbery case, they’re still facing federal hate crime charges. It’s always wise to seek legal guidance before you provide a defense for your actions to law enforcement.

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