Gov. Kemp signed into law a bill abolishing citizen’s arrest, a practice which the men who pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery will likely cite in their defense, and which criminal justice reform advocates say should have been abolished decades ago.
The United States Constitution and its amendments say that no one should receive cruel and unusual punishment for a crime of which they have been convicted, and no one should receive criminal penalties of any sort unless they have pleaded guilty or been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the state may not deprive a person of their liberty except as a punishment for a crime, and it must respect defendants’ rights to due process. Why, then, it is legal for someone other than a law enforcement officer to detain a person just because they think the person has committed a crime? The answer is citizen’s arrest, a gaping loophole in the right to due process which exists in some form in all 50 states. This year, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a piece of legislation which outlaws citizen’s arrest except under a few limited circumstances. From now on, most actions which were previously permissible as citizen’s arrests in Georgia will now count as false imprisonment or other criminal offenses.
Citizen’s Arrest Has a Long History of Being Used to Justify Racially Motivated Violence
Georgia’s citizen’s arrest laws have been on the books since 1863, during the Civil War. Until this year, the citizen’s arrest law made it legal in Georgia for anyone to detain a person that they suspected of having committed a crime. The ostensible purpose of the laws was to make it easier for law enforcement to find suspects, since witnesses would have already detained them, but in practice, residents of Georgia have often used the citizen’s arrest law as an excuse to commit much more nefarious acts. Most of the people who have conducted citizen’s arrests in Georgia have been white, and most of the detainees have been Black; the incident in February 2020 when three men in Glynn County pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged near his home was, sadly, not unique. According to the New York Times, the mobs that carried out 531 lynchings in Georgia often cited citizen’s arrest as an excuse for their actions.
Under the current version of the law, it is no longer for most people in most situations to make a citizen’s arrest, but the law outlines several exceptions where it is legal to hold someone against their will until police arrive. For example, security guards and licensed private detectives can still make citizen’s arrests, and the managers of retail stores can prevent suspected shoplifters from leaving until police arrive.
Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers Stand Up for Your Rights
A criminal defense lawyer can help protect you from violations of your right to due process, no matter the circumstances in which these violations occur. Contact the defense lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about criminal defense cases.