Governor Brian Kemp is backing changes to Georgia’s citizens arrest law after lawmakers filed legislation to amend that statute that made national headlines after the death of Ahmaud Arbery in the spring of 2020.
House Bill 479 is sponsored in the Georgia House by Representatives Bert Reeves, one of Kemp’s floor leaders, repeals the current law allow an arrest by citizens while simultaneously closing legal loopholes that could be used nefariously. It was filed Tuesday but has not yet been assigned to a committee.
Among the changes is the creation of Code Section 17-4-80 and creates specific instances in which a private person may detain someone, including:
- 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.
In doing this, the bill 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.
The bill also gives law enforcement officers the right to perform arrests outside of their respective jurisdictions in three circumstances.
The bill would take effect as soon as Kemp signs it, in the event that it is passed by both the House and the Senate. You can read the bill in its entirety here.
Kemp made a lengthy statement Tuesday, saying:
“I am proud to announce my administration’s significant reforms to our citizen’s arrest statute to prevent evil acts of vigilantism and keep our communities safe.
One of the most fundamental rights of any citizen is the right to defend themselves or others, and this legislation does not undermine or infringe on that sacred protection. This bill repeals the current Civil War-era statute in order to prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law, and clarifies when a citizen, business owner, or law enforcement officer may reasonably detain an individual
Last summer, leaders under the Gold Dome took historic, bipartisan action to pass anti-hate crimes legislation and reaffirm that Georgia is a state too great for hate. Our effort to overhaul the citizen’s arrest statute builds on that work with a balanced approach to protecting the lives and livelihoods of ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors. In a national political climate where it often seems like no one can agree on anything, I am proud to say this bill has broad, bipartisan support in the General Assembly, our law enforcement community, and among civil rights advocacy groups.”
As state leaders, we owe it to our children to root out injustice wherever it is found and leave this state better than we found it. I believe Republicans and Democrats can rise to the challenge again, put aside partisan politics, and support a balanced approach to overhauling Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law.”
The measure has support from both sides of the aisle and the backing of law enforcement, including Attorney General Chris Carr, the GBI, and Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Chris Wright.
“The evolution of society and technology requires us to revise and update current laws to be applicable to the 21st Century. This law dates back to the 19th Century. The proposed legislation regarding arrests by non-law enforcement looks to correct the outdated language, which is much needed,” Colonel Chris Wright, said Wednesday.
“I support the repeal of the Georgia Citizen’s Arrest statute that has been on the law books of our state since 1863. The citizen’s arrest law is outdated and ripe for abuse by those untrained citizens where 911 is widely available for calling law enforcement to respond. As with the 2020 Anti-Hate Crimes Act, now is the time to remove this cloud over our State; we should not allow citizens to take the law into their own hands and senseless violence to take place. We must act now.” – Rep. Calvin Smyre, Dean of the House (D – Columbus)