Legalese — No More Citizens Arrest!

Apparently, I spoke too soon.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about Georgia’s Citizens Arrest Laws.  At the time that I wrote that article, the law was as I stated it.  However, as of a few days ago, the law has changed, and radically so.  House Bill 479, signed by Governor Kemp, is something you might need to know about. 

HB 479 changes some procedures about warrantless arrests by law enforcement officers who are outside their own jurisdictions.  Those law enforcement officers can only make an arrest outside their jurisdiction without a warrant if: A) The offense is committed in the presence of the officer or within his or her immediate knowledge; B) While assisting another officer when that other officer is in his or her own jurisdiction; or C) when in immediate pursuit of an offender when the pursuit started inside the officer’s jurisdiction.  That last one means that if there is a chase of some kind, the officer doesn’t need to come to a halt at the county line.  The chase can continue as long as it needs to be in order to get the bad guy.

The entire section about regular, non-law enforcement citizens detaining someone until they can be delivered to the proper law enforcement or court authorities, is repealed.  What you think of as ‘citizens arrest’ no longer exists in Georgia.  A regular person cannot detain someone they think has committed a crime.

As always, there is an exception to this rule.  Let’s call it the ‘Paul Blart’ exception.  There is a new section of this law which carves out an exception for stores/retailers and restaurant owners.  If you try to ‘dine and dash’ (leave the restaurant without paying for your food) or shoplift, the store personnel can stop you from leaving until the police get there.  The same goes for attempted theft or shoplifting, so the fact that you didn’t get away with it is irrelevant.

The law goes further on to say that unless it is a self-defense situation or a ‘defense of habitation’[1] situation you can’t use any force if you are a private person making an arrest under this law.  You can’t hold anyone at gunpoint, you can’t tackle them, you can’t brain them with a shovel. 

Those are the only times in which a person who is not a law enforcement officer in the place where you are can detain someone until the local police show up.   

There is one final section about civil liability.  There is a concern that if you are wrong about thinking the person was guilty of the crime (it was the other guy in the blue sweatshirt, or he was eating the potato chips he came in with) you don’t have any civil liability under certain circumstance.  The legal definition is if the person you detained “conducted himself or herself of behaved in such a manner as to cause a person of reasonable prudence to believe that the [person] at or immediately prior to the time of the detention was committing” shoplifting or theft as described above.

In more simpler terms, unless you are store security or you work at a restaurant and someone tries to get away without paying for their food, citizens arrest is now gone in Georgia.  Regular people cannot arrest or detain anyone.  That’s what law enforcement is for. 

[1] Defense of habitation means that you can defend your home from being broken into using force. 

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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