After Arbery’s death, Kemp announces bill to overhaul Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law

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ATLANTA (WSAV) – Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday unveiled legislation that will overhaul Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law.

The statute came under scrutiny last year when used by an attorney to justify the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Kemp said the “horrific killing” rocked not only Brunswick but communities across the state.

“Ahmaud was a victim of vigilante-style of violence that has no place in Georgia,” the governor said. “And some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.”

The law states:

A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.

Kemp says this legislation takes a balanced approach to closing “dangerous” loopholes and preventing vigilantism.

“This bill repeals the current Civil War-era statute to prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law,” he said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, bumps fists with Democratic state Rep. Carl Gilliard of Garden City on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, at the state Capitol in Atlanta. The Republican Kemp announced a plan to abolish Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, partly blamed in the 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Ga. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

“I’m elated that this antiquated and outdated law of 1863 is about to be repealed,” stated Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Savannah), a co-sponsor of the bill.

“We can now put an end to Georgia’s past and move Georgia forward toward its future,” he added.

Watch the governor’s announcement in full:

The governor says law enforcement officers outside of their jurisdiction will still have the power to “reasonably detain” offenders, as will private business owners and homeowners.

But it aims to address concerns from activists who say the law unfairly targets African Americans because of systematic inequalities.

“Like the anti-hate crimes legislation, reforming the citizen’s arrest statute is first and foremost about who we are as a state,” Kemp said.

He says he’ll work with leaders in both parties to ensure the legislation passes this session.

Overhauling the statute

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

  • When an offense is committed in the officer’s presence or immediate knowledge;
  • When the officer is in “hot pursuit” of an offender and the offender leaves the officer’s jurisdiction while attempting to escape;
  • 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.

Sections 4-6 clean up references to the current citizen’s arrest statute found throughout the Official Code of Georgia.

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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