The murder trial of the three white men charged with chasing down and then fatally shooting a 25-year-old Black man named Ahmaud Arbery in Feb. 2020 is underway. The trial, like the killing itself, has garnered both nationwide and international attention. The men are also facing federal charges for committing a hate crime and attempted kidnapping.
The three men have claimed that they went after Arbery, who was reportedly jogging near this mother’s home outside of Brunswick because they suspected him of being the culprit behind some local home burglaries. Their defense is based on an 1863 Georgia law still on the books at the time that allowed citizens to legally make arrests if they saw a person committing a crime or had reason to believe they had.
Georgia “citizen’s arrest law” was overhauled this year
The law, which was used frequently to detain and kill Black people, came under renewed scrutiny with calls to abolish it after Arbery’s killing. In a rare show of bipartisanship, Georgia state lawmakers nearly unanimously passed legislation that significantly dilutes the citizens’ arrest authority of that Civil War-era law. It was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year.
Gov. Kemp proclaimed, “This bill makes Georgia the first state in the country to repeal its citizen’s arrest statute.” It’s not a full repeal, however. A private person is no longer allowed to “arrest” a person even if they claim to have seen them committing a crime. However, business owners are still allowed to detain people if they have “reasonable grounds” to do so – for example, if they catch them shoplifting. There are also some exceptions for professionals like security guards.
It’s important to know who can and cannot legally detain you for a suspected crime. If you’re facing serious criminal charges, it’s also crucial to know the law. That’s why experienced legal guidance is always advisable.