Georgia Repeals Citizen’s Arrest Law

In order to prevent crimes like the one that claimed the life of Ahmaud Arbery, Georgia has enacted a new law that prevents citizen’s arrest, except in the case of store employees who have witnessed shoplifting and restaurant employees who have witnessed “dine and dash” incidents.

Up until May of 2021, all 50 states allowed citizen’s arrest, which is where witnesses to a crime can stop the suspected perpetrator from leaving the premises until the police arrive. These laws have been on the books since the 19th century, when it was much more difficult for witnesses to report crimes and for police to locate suspects based on witnesses’ descriptions. Today, if you witness a crime, you can contact the police by telephone, and they arrive by car within minutes. Likewise, you can photograph the suspect’s vehicle or write down the license plate number, and home security cameras record burglaries and vandalism, so physically detaining someone is completely unnecessary.

The potential has always existed for citizen’s arrest laws to be misused, and throughout their history, people have used citizens’ arrest laws to justify racially motivated violence. Even today, the defense lawyers for the men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery plan to argue that the citizen’s arrest laws then on the books made their actions justifiable. On May 10, 2021, Governor Brian Kemp signed a law that repeals citizen’s arrest; now, except in specific circumstances, detaining a person against their will counts as false imprisonment and can be prosecuted as a crime.

The First State Without Citizen’s Arrest

The old citizen’s arrest law, which was enacted during the Civil War, was so broad as to give citizens free rein to detain anyone they deemed suspicious. In practice, it was selectively applied to enable white people to detain African Americans, even for the most trivial of reasons and with as much violence as the citizens conducting the “arrest” deemed appropriate. The new law, which Governor Kemp signed on May 10, removes citizen’s arrest as a legal concept and calls the practice of preventing someone from leaving a place by a more appropriate name — false imprisonment.

The new law still allows for limited circumstances in which certain people can stop certain other people from leaving certain places. Specifically, if employees of a retail store witness a shoplifting incident, the store employees or security guards may prevent the suspected shoplifter from leaving the store until police arrive. Likewise, if employees of a restaurant witness customers attempting to leave a restaurant without paying for their meal, they may stop the customers suspected of dine and dash from leaving until the police come to the restaurant.

Contact Zimmerman & Associates in Norcross About False Imprisonment

A Gwinnett County, Georgia criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are facing criminal charges for false imprisonment. Your lawyer can also help you if someone other than a law enforcement officer tried to detain you against your will before your arrest. Contact Zimmerman & Associates in Norcross, Georgia to set up a free consultation.