Bill to overhaul state citizen’s arrest law introduced as next week marks 1 year since Arbery shooting

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday a bipartisan bill aimed at overhauling the state’s citizen arrest laws. The legislation comes as the one-year anniversary of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder nears.

Channel 2 investigator reporter Mark Winne attended the news conference held by Kemp and lawmakers sponsoring the bill. Winne spoke with Arbery’s mother after the bill was announced.

“Unfortunately, Ahmaud had to lose his life to get change. I look at it, Ahmaud didn’t die in vain,” Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones told Winne. “I’m glad that something is finally being implemented to protect the citizens of Georgia.”

Currently, Georgia law states that a private citizen can arrest someone if a criminal act is committed in his or her presence.

According to the proposal, the new bill wants to repeal the current law and tailor codes to protect Georgians rights and safety. The bill also wants to eliminate loopholes “that could be used to justify vigilantism.”

“One of the most fundamental rights of any citizen is the right to defend themselves or others, and this legislation does not undermine or infringe on that sacred protection,” Kemp said. “This bill repeals the current Civil War-era statute in order to prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law, and clarifies when a citizen, business owner, or law enforcement officer may reasonably detain an individual.”

The bill would creates specific instances in which a business owner or private person may detain someone.


Feb. 23 will mark one year since Arbery was chased, gunned down and killed in a Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood.

The suspects, Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan, have claimed self-defense and pled not guilty to their charges.

One of the defense lawyers in the case has indicated he expects Georgia’s old citizens arrest law will be front and center. Bob Rubin said he believes his client Travis McMichael at least used it appropriately.

Arbery’s family has repeatedly said during the past year that Arbery was only jogging through the neighborhood.

“Ahmaud wasn’t doing a crime. He was thought to be doing a crime and he lost his life so senselessly not doing anything wrong,” Cooper-Jones said.

The lawmakers behind the new citizen arrest bill says it is a follow-up to a hate crime law that Kemp signed in June.

Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) says he predicts swift passage because of bipartisan support.

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Georgia’s Citizens’ Arrest Statute Overhaul Bill

2021 Legislative Session

LC 41 2936-EC

The antiquated concept of a private citizen’s right to detain wrongdoers under certain circumstances is rooted in English Common Law. Such “arrests” are permitted under slightly varying circumstances via either statute or case law in all 50 American states. Georgia’s current “citizens’ arrest” statute was first codified in 1863.

Current Law

Georgia’s current “citizens’ arrest” statutes are found in Code Sections 17-4-60, 17-4-61, and 17-4-62. These statutes permit private citizens to perform arrests of offenders who commit crimes within the citizen’s presence or immediate knowledge. If the offender is attempting to escape, and the crime committed is a felony, then the private citizen may pursue the offender and arrest them so long as the citizen has reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion that the offender committed the crime.

A private citizen who makes an arrest is required to transport the offender to either a judicial or law enforcement officer without unnecessary delay.

LC 41 2936-EC

This bill seeks to repeal Georgia’s current citizens’ arrest law and to tailor the code to protect the rights and safety of Georgians while eliminating any potential legal loopholes that could be used to justify vigilantism.

Section 1 of the bill gives law enforcement officers the right to perform arrests outside of their respective jurisdictions in three circumstances:

1. When an offense is committed in the officer’s presence or immediate knowledge;

2. When the officer is in “hot pursuit” of an offender and the offender leaves the officer’s jurisdiction while attempting to escape;

3. When the officer is assisting law enforcement officers of another jurisdiction.

Section 2 Repeals Georgia’s citizens’ arrest statutes.

Section 3 creates Code Section 17-4-80 and creates specific instances in which a private person may detain someone:

· A “shopkeeper’s privilege” is created which would allow owners of businesses and their employees to detain offenders who the owner or employee has probable cause to believe is committing a theft on the premises of the owner’s establishment.

· A provision allowing restaurant owners and their employees to detain offenders whom the owner or employee has probable cause to believe are attempting to “dine and dash.”

· A provision allowing weight inspectors to detain individuals when needed in the course of their duties.

· A provision allowing licensed private security officers and private investigators to detain individuals when conducting their duties in the performance of their businesses.

· A detained offender must either be released, or the owner or employee must contact law enforcement within an hour to remove the detained individual. If a law enforcement officer does not arrive within one hour of the initial detention, the detained individual must be released along with their personal belongings.

· A provision is included stating that nothing in this Code Section shall be construed to limit or alter any defense under Georgia’s defense of self and property statutes, or Georgia’s “stand your ground” statute.

· A provision is included prohibiting the use of force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to detain someone under this Code Section unless the detention is to protect self, others, ones’ habitation, or to prevent a forcible felony.

Section 4 cleans up language referencing Georgia’s Current Citizens’ Arrest statute.

Section 5 Eliminates language tying weight inspectors’ detention rights to the Citizens’ Arrest statute repealed by this bill.

Section 6 Repeals private investigators’ rights to arrest individuals.

Section 7 Provides civil immunity to retail business and restaurant owners who properly detain individuals under the newly created Code Section 17-4-80 from false arrest and false imprisonment claims.

Section 8 Once passed, this Act will become effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature.

Section 9 Repeals any conflicting provision remaining in the Code.

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