HB 479 would repeal citizen’s arrest from state law while still allowing employees at businesses, those conducting business on someone else’s property, security officers, private investigators and inspectors at truck scales to detain someone they believe has committed a crime. The bill also would allow law enforcement officers to make arrests outside their jurisdictions.
Enactment of the law would make Georgia the first state to remove a citizen’s arrest statute from its books. All 50 states have a version of the law in place. Lawmakers in South Carolina and New York have introduced similar measures.
HB 479 had broad support from lawmakers throughout the legislative process, with only one lawmaker, Danielsville Republican state Sen. Frank Ginn, voting against the bill.
While debating the bill on Monday, Ginn said he didn’t feel comfortable supporting a measure that wouldn’t allow him to detain someone he saw stealing property from his neighbor’s home. Under the state’s self-defense laws, bystanders can only intervene if the crime being witnessed is a forcible felony or to defend someone else from receiving bodily harm.
The law gained national attention last year after Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death while running near Brunswick after being chased by three men who claimed they believed he was a burglar. Local prosecutors initially declined to charge the men, citing the citizen’s arrest law.
After video of Arbery’s death became public in May and the GBI began to investigate the case, the citizen’s arrest defense was disregarded and all three men were charged with murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
Civil rights activists and several Democratic leaders worked with Kemp and other lawmakers to repeal the statute.
“This is a monumental moment in Georgia history to repeal this antiquated citizen’s arrest law,” said Georgia NAACP President James Woodall.
Current state law allows any Georgian who believes he has witnessed a crime to arrest the suspected offender if the crime “is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” If the crime is a felony and the person suspected of committing it is trying to flee, Georgians are allowed to arrest that person “upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”