Nearly every state has a citizen’s arrest law allowing civilians to detain someone if they have witnessed a crime being committed. Some of these laws allow only felony suspects to be held until law enforcement arrives, while others also allow those suspected of “breach of peace” misdemeanors to be held.
Does this mean you can use any force necessary to restrain the Peeping Tom outside your daughter’s window or the neighborhood vandal who is spray painting your mailbox? Not exactly; it’s more complicated than that.
People are reevaluating citizen’s arrest laws these days because of the Feb. 23 shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia. A local prosecutor blocked the arrest of Gregory and Travis McMichael, the white father-and-son duo who were seen on video pursuing Arbery through their neighborhood and whose gun caused the young black man’s death. The prosecutor cited Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law when he seemed to declare the men were legally in “hot pursuit” and had “solid firsthand probable cause” that Arbery was a “burglary suspect.”
There is absolutely no evidence Arbery, 25, was a burglar, although he was seen briefly wandering through a home under construction. Arbery was not armed as he jogged through the McMichael’s neighborhood. He had no alcohol or drugs in his system when he was fatally shot twice in the chest.