For The Record

More lawmakers push for quick repeal of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law

By: - June 5, 2020 8:11 am

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell Credit: Georgia House of Representatives

As momentum builds for a hate crimes law in Georgia, there also now appears to be growing legislative support to repeal a controversial citizen’s arrest law that a prosecutor recently cited after the death of an unarmed black jogger.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced Thursday that they plan to file a bill this month that would repeal the 19th Century-era law that a prosecutor referenced when he decided not to charge the men behind the Glynn County shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Republican Reps. Don Hogan and Gerald Greene plan to stand in front of the Chatham County Courthouse Friday with Democrat Reps. Carl Gilliard, Roger Bruce and William Boddie to discuss the proposal.

“This legislation’s focus is to prevent civilians from taking the law into their own hands,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carl Gilliard, a Garden City Democrat, said in a statement Thursday.

“Our citizen’s arrest law was created in 1863, and this law is clearly outdated as it was formed in the fashion of the Wild West. When individuals lose their lives at the hands of civilians that become judge and jury, we must use the power of the pen to move Georgia forward,” Gilliard said.

Greene, a Cuthbert Republican who chairs the House State Properties Committee, said he believes that “it is the role of law enforcement to safeguard the citizens of our state.”

This video still shows the Feb. 23 encounter between Ahmaud Arbery, right, and Travis McMichael in the moments before Arbery was killed. Some Georgia lawmakers are calling for changes to the citizen’s arrest law following Arbery’s death.

The announcement came on the same day that the three white men who have since been charged in Arbery’s killing appeared in court for a preliminary hearing, where an investigator testified that the shooter, Travis McMichael, used a racial slur as Arbery laid in the street. The men said they believed Arbery was a burglary suspect.

The repeal bill is also among the proposals that House Democrats said Thursday they plan to push during what remains of the 2020 legislative session. State lawmakers are set to return on June 15 after the COVID-19 outbreak caused a three-month disruption.

Much of the lawmakers’ focus, though, will be on cutting 11% from the state’s spending plan that takes effect July 1 after a sharp decline in state revenues and it could be tough to maneuver a change to the citizens arrest law with 11 days left in this year’s General Assembly.

But measures other than next year’s state spending plan will likely be considered during the two weeks that remain. For one, lawmakers appear poised to resume work on a hate crimes bill that has sat dormant in the state Senate since it passed out of the House in last year. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan recently said he thinks changes are needed to the current bill, which narrowly passed the House last year.

Georgia is one of only four states without a hate crimes bill.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, announced Thursday that Democrats will propose a package of bills intended to address the “systemic disparities and the systemic racism that exist in our criminal justice system and with the use of force.”

The proposals come as protests continue across the country, including in Georgia, following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while handcuffed. A memorial service for Floyd was held Thursday.

Trammell said two of the measures will aim to repeal Georgia’s “stand your ground” law and the citizen’s arrest law.

“We stand with the peaceful protest all across the country – here in our state and candidly all across the world – but as elected officials it is incumbent upon us to act,” Trammell said during a livestreamed press conference.

The rest of the package of bills will be announced next week, Trammell said. Any new bills introduced now come after Crossover Day, which is the deadline for one bill to pass at least one chamber to have the clearest path to becoming law.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.