Senator proposes end to citizen’s arrests in New York

Citizens’ arrests may be a thing of the past in New York state.

Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, recently introduced S.3183 in the state Senate to amend the state Criminal Procedure Law and the state Penal Law to abolish the citizen’s arrest and remove references in state law to the ability of a private person to use physical force to effect an arrest or escape from custody. Under Gianaris’ legislation, a private person may only use physical force against an individual who is reasonably believed to have a committed a felony and did in fact commit a felony and is in immediate flight.

“Citizen’s arrest laws can create dangerous situations by empowering untrained individuals to attempt to apprehend their fellow New Yorkers,” Gianaris wrote in his legislative justification. “One only need look at the tragedy involving Ahmaud Arbery to see the perils of allowing this approach. Existing New York state law allows private individuals to arrest someone without a warrant for any crime, at any time of the day. In some circumstances, these individuals do not even need to inform the prospective arrestee of the reason for performing the arrest. Private individuals are also currently authorized by law to use “such physical force as is justifiable” to effectuate the arrest, posing a significant danger to New Yorkers.”

The case of Ahmed Arbery cited by Gianaris happened last year in Georgia when two men were charged with murder and aggravated assault after killing a man. Arbery, 25, was jogging in a neighborhood outside Brunswick on February 23 when Gregory McMichael, a former police officer, and his son chased him down, authorities said. According to a Glynn County Police report, Gregory McMichael, 64, later told officers that he thought Arbery looked like a person whom they suspected in a series of recent break-ins in the area. After they chased down Arbery, McMichael told police, Arbery and Travis McMichael, 34, struggled over his son’s shotgun. The elder McMichael told police that his son shot Arbery after the latter attacked him, according to the police report.

In general, citizen’s arrest laws let a citizen detain someone if they have committed a crime, but the exact circumstances vary depending on the state.

“This degree of latitude provided to private individuals in the administration of criminal justice demonstrates a gross disregard for the due process rights of residents of our state,” Gianaris wrote. “Troublingly, these laws empower ordinary people to collect any adult or child and deliver them to authorities with no oversight by trained professionals. These laws were built on a foundation of racist ideals and still to this day create additional opportunities for physical danger and racially disparate treatment involving the criminal system. Efforts to repeal citizens’ arrest laws like these are currently underway in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today