Georgia House committee close to consensus on citizen's arrest changes

They have met only twice, but a Georgia House committee tasked with reviewing the state's citizen's arrest law could come to a bipartisan consensus soon, according to its chairman.

"There's real engagement from the committee and the public right now," explained state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula.  "I think there's an interest in really looking into whether or not we need this law on the books and how it is currently used, if at all."  

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee heard testimony from the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Georgia Sheriffs' Association who all said they could not remember a case involving a citizen's arrest in all their decades of experience.

Instead, many times citizens, shop owners or security guards simply detain suspects until law enforcement can arrive.  

"I don't think you would see prosecutors object to the repeal of the citizen's arrest part," said Pete Skandalakis, a former prosecutor.

There were widespread calls to change the law after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga.  Three men now face murder charges after they chased down and killed Arbery in February.  The defendants claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest after a series of burglaries in the area.  

"That's acknowledged across the board now that that case was not a citizen's arrest, but it really kicked off the discussion," said Efstration.  

Rep. Efstration said the committee would soon draft legislative language so that lawmakers can review and tweak the bill before the start of the 2021 legislative session in January.

"That is a very important part of the process, because until members are able to review the actual proposal, it's difficult to fully evaluate whether there will be any unintended consequences or whether it will truly address the issue," Efstration explained.

State Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, filed a bill last month that would completely repeal Georgia's citizen's arrest statute and he said the state should lead the way.

"What we have in our hands right now is an opportunity to walk in a bipartisan method to send a message to the world that Georgia has no tolerance for unadulterated murder," said Rep. Gilliard.  

The committee plans to meet again in early August.