Citizen’s Arrest. Misused by sociopaths to abuse, intimidate and harass

Sociopath: a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

Citizen’s arrest is one of the most abused tools available to the public. The misuse of the citizen’s arrest can have devastating long term consequences for a person illegally and unfairly targeted for a citizen’s arrest.

Lee’s Perspective contributor Liz Heidhues wrote the following after she read of the Federal Hate Crimes indictment of three men charged with the February 2020 murder of jogger Ahmaud Arbery while he was running  in a predominantly White Georgia neighborhood.

Ahmaud Arbery

Liz Heidhues 4.29.2021

Citizen’s Arrest. Abuse, Racism, Violence, Murder.

We need to start a conversation around repealing the citizen’s arrest law – NOW.

Another innocent victim will be wronged, humiliated, falsely arrested, or murdered if we continue to ignore the abuse or misuse of the doctrine of citizen’s arrest with its serious consequences for the arrestors and the arrestees.

Private persons, acting out their own depraved fantasies and manipulating the system to achieve their own hateful ends, abuse the citizen’s arrest as a tool for enacting Revenge, Racism, and Repression of another’s civil rights.

In every jurisdiction in the United States, a private person may lawfully detain another and may often use physical force to do so.

Citizen’s arrests arose in medieval England when it could take days for law enforcement to travel to a crime scene. Then, it was necessary for private citizens to help detain suspects for the arrival of law enforcement. However, citizen’s arrest is a doctrine whose time should have passed many decades – or centuries – ago. It has long outlived its usefulness.

People are unchecked from roaming the streets looking for “wrongdoers” to arrest, thus increasing the potential for abuse.

Citizen's arrest I 4.29.2021
Citizens Arrest! Citizen’s Arrest!

The racist implications of the law cannot be ignored.

During the lynching era in America, white mobs would claim they were exercising the right of citizen’s arrest.

On 1.22.1912 four Black people in Hamilton, Georgia, were citizen’s arrested and lynched, accused of killing a White planter who was sexually abusing Black girls and women.

On 7.25.1946 two Black couples were dragged from their car in Walton County, Georgia, and shot 60 times by a mob of White men making a citizen’s arrest.

Police Officers abuse the citizen’s arrest.

In one instance, a Police Officer had a private citizen sign a blank citizen’s arrest form as a precautionary measure to permit Officers to arrest protestors if they became too rowdy.

The citizen’s arrest is a blanket authorization for a private person to arrest anyone for almost anything and compromises the usual restraints that are placed on a Police Officer’s power to arrest, such as actually witnessing the Incident. It alters the role of the Police Officer.

The citizen’s arrest transforms the Police Officer into a custodian who acts at the direction of the person making the citizen’s arrest.

The most recent grim reminder of an abuse of a citizen’s arrest is the 2.23.2020 shooting death of a 25-year-old Black jogger pursued by three White men in pick-up trucks during a citizen’s arrest of him in Glynn County, Georgia.

The armed White father-and-son duo, Gregory and Travis McMichael, were captured on video pursuing Ahmaud Arbery, the black jogger, in their vehicle through their Georgia neighborhood and gunning Mr. Arbery down.

Ahmaud Arbery III 5.7.2020
Gregory and Travis McMichael charged with Federal Hate Crimes.

The third White man, William “Roddie” Bryan, followed in a second vehicle.  Bryan later provided a statement to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that the McMichael son, Travis McMichael, said “F—— N—–” as Mr. Arbery lay dying.

Local prosecutors blocked the arrests of the White men, the McMichaels and Bryan, for over 8 weeks. The McMichael’s and  Bryan were eventually indicted for murder and other charges in late May 2020.

Initially,  prosecutors citied Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law. The White men were declared to be legally in “hot pursuit’ and had “solid, firsthand, Probable Cause” that Ahmaud Arbery was a burglary suspect.

There was absolutely no evidence that Mr. Arbery was a burglar. Mr. Arbery was not armed as he jogged through the White men’s neighborhood.

The harm caused by the United States’ citizen’s arrest doctrine is long-standing and thoroughly documented. The abuses of it far outweigh the uses.

We need to stand up and take action. NOW.

There can be no more justification for private persons to enact false arrests AND to murder innocent citizens for deceptive, spurious, or untrue grounds.


  • Vilifying the Vigilante: A Narrowed Scope of Citizen’s Arrest. Ira P. Robbins, Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. 2016.
  • House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee to Repeal Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest Law. Hannah Riley, 7.12.2020. Southern Center for Human Rights.