Florida lawmakers are looking to pass legislation that would make arrests made by citizens illegal.
Senate Bill 812, introduced by Senator Corey Simon, a Republican from Tallahassee, will “prohibit a private person who is not a law enforcement officer from arresting another person, providing exceptions.”
According to Cornell Law School, a citizen’s arrest is described as an “arrest made by a private citizen, in contrast to the typical arrest made by a police officer.” To qualify as a citizen’s arrest, the individual must either find the person in the act of committing the crime or escape lawful authority for it to be a citizen’s arrest legally.
Although a citizen’s arrest is lawful, it can be dangerous and is not encouraged by law enforcement officers, who urge citizens to refrain from to making a citizen’s arrest. A citizen not associated with law enforcement has no prior training and can be placed in extremely dangerous situations when making a citizen’s arrest, according to law enforcement officers.
An example of a citizen’s arrest turned dangerous was the unlawful murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot while jogging in Georgia in 2020. The men responsible, Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan, said that they believed Arbery was responsible for burglaries in the area and tried to detain Arbery.
Courts rejected the appeal due to the fact they did not own the property the men were attempting to protect, nor did they catch Arbery in the act of committing a crime. Georgia has since revised its citizen’s arrest laws.
A similar bill, HB 25, filed in the Florida House of Representatives in December 2022 was intended to prohibit citizen’s arrests but died without a committee hearing.
Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Christopher Benjamin introduced HB 25. In an interview with Florida Politics Benjamin said, “We definitely do not want citizens arresting each other at gunpoint and having shootouts at the OK Corral.”
Law enforcement officers who are also acting outside of their jurisdiction may also arrest a person who commits a felony in their presence when the officer has probable cause that a felony was committed.
The bill does not have any impact on current Florida laws such as stand your ground or other self-defense laws. SB 812 was filed on Feb. 15, and was introduced March 7. If passed, it will take effect July 1.