Georgia legislators representing Glynn County who worked on a bill to overhaul the state’s 19th-century citizen’s arrest law were pleased to see it passed into law last week.
Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, was the second to sign on as a sponsor.
“This bill goes back to the 1800s, and it’s fixing a law that should have been done away with a long time ago,” Hogan said.
The new law, passed out of the General Assembly, clarifies the vague citizen’s arrest statute, he said. Citizens can still intervene in crimes in progress and detain someone until the police arrive, but they must actually witness a crime occurring.
Representatives were careful not to infringe on the rights of citizens to defend themselves or protect their homes. He said those are separate issues.
It does not apply to law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity and includes a carve-out for business owners protecting their establishments from theft.
Early in the process of crafting the law, Gov. Brian Kemp publicly stated that the Feb. 23 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood south of Brunswick was one of the driving forces behind the legislation. The citizen’s arrest law was given as a reason why the suspects in Arbery’s death should not have been arrested, according to a letter Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill sent to county police. Barnhill would later recuse himself from the case with the GBI eventually taking over and arresting three men on murder and other charges.
Hogan and Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend, said they were also motivated by the event to varying degrees.
“That’s exactly the kind of thing we tried to address,” DeLoach said. “The main thing it really does is say you can’t chase someone down and detain them because you think they committed a crime.”
The bill did face some opposition early on, but it would go on to pass the House unanimously while there was only one dissenting vote in the Senate.
“You just had to make them understand exactly what the bill did and what it did not do,” DeLoach said. “... Our job really in getting that bill passed was to make sure we explained it, because initially a lot of people who reacted around the state thought it was totally eliminating an individual’s ability to respond to a crime.”