Georgia is on its way to repealing a centuries-old citizens arrest law that currently allows citizens of the Peach State to detain others if a crime is committed in their presence “or within their immediate knowledge.”
Monday, HB 479 passed the Georgia Senate with a 52-1 vote. It will head back to the House where a Senate amendment giving business owners the right to detain suspected thieves will be voted open.
The bill does not totally end citizen’s arrest policies, but rather restricts them to making citizen’s arrests on their own property, or at their own businesses. Witnesses and bystanders to suspected crimes would not be able to detain someone under the new law.
“You can’t use deadly force to stop somebody if you think they might have stolen a TV from somebody’s house down the street, because sometimes this leads to consequences that aren’t intended when citizens try to play police officer, not being trained and not having the full picture,” state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) told ABC News.
The bill does not end Georgia’s “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens to defend themselves in the face of a forcible threat, whether on their own property or in public. Self-defense laws mandate that citizens use force on proportionally to that of their attacker.
The bill does require that the detainee is released along with their belongings if a sheriff’s deputy or police officer does not arrive on the scene within a “reasonable time,” and requires the detainee to be handed over to law enforcement once they do arrive.
The law is widely viewed as a response to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed during a struggle with Greg and Travis McMichael near Brunswick, Georgia last February. The McMichael’s, a father and son duo, have been charged with murder. They allegedly pursued Arbery, suspecting he was a burglar after they caught him on a surveillance camera entering a home that was under construction.
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