Ahmaud Arbery’s death raises questions about SC’s citizen’s arrest law

House Democrats seek changes to citizen arrest laws following Ahmaud Arbery’s death

With the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery capturing national attention, the circumstances surrounding how he died, and the idea of a citizen’s arrest, has raised questions among lawmakers all over the country, including in South Carolina.

Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while running in a Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood. The father and son later charged with his murder, told police they suspected Arbery of committed a crime, then pursued him with loaded weapons.

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House Representative Mandy Powers Norrell said the Arbery case drove her to research state laws on citizen’s arrests in South Carolina. What she found disturbed her.

“When I looked, I saw that we had one far worse in South Carolina than is even contemplated in Georgia,” Norrell said. “This law doesn’t even require that the crime be done to the person making the arrest or using the deadly force. It is a very open-ended and very vaguely worded statute that would tie the hands of any prosecutor who is facing someone using this as a defense.”

Tuesday, Norrell filed a bill in the House to eliminate many of the provisions that would legally justify using deadly force during a citizen’s arrest. She’s proposing the law only include home break-ins at night, as opposed to the current statute, which includes using deadly force against someone committing a felony, having stolen property in their possession, or suspicious circumstances that person committed a crime, and attempted to run away when acknowledged.

“I am surprised this has not been abused in South Carolina thus far, but we want to close the door on the possibility,” Rep. Norrell said.

Read the bill here.

Rep. Justin Bamberg of District 90 proposed legislation that would abolish citizen’s arrests in South Carolina altogether. The House Democrats are in support of the others’ bills, though differ in how far the law should go.

“My belief is that if we are going to do it, we need to do it,” Rep. Bamberg said.

Bamberg explained under his proposal, citizens would still have the right to self-defense, and to defend the life of someone else.

“What abolishing citizens arrests would do away with is the legal authority of a citizen who thinks that someone is committing or about to commit a felony,” he said.

“Police have a hard time getting it right sometimes. We don't need citizens out here out here trying to be supercop.”

It’s unlikely the law will go before committee in the current legislative session, though the two lawmakers hoped to bring attention to the issue, headed into next year.

“It didn’t have to happen in South Carolina for us to address this section of the law and fix it,” Norrell said.