Self-defense is your right, and your moral obligation as a rational human. Even in my home state of California, you have the right to defend yourself and to stand your ground. Despite the Bluest-of-Blue-State citizens, I have won major self defense cases in the SF Bay Area. This month self-defense is in the news from two big cases. Kyle Rittenhouse recently found Not Guilty in Michigan, and the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
Arbery was pursued by three men – Travis McMichael and his father Gregory, who were armed and in one vehicle, and William “Roddie” Bryan, who was in another vehicle and videoed the pursuit and shooting. You can read the full Wikipedia article on the killing of Ahmaud Arbery here.
Just like the Kyle Rittenhouse case, the key to the Arbery case is self-defense. However, in the Ahmaud Arbery killing, self-defense laws actually justify a conviction of the McMichaels, rather than an acquittal as in Rittenhouse.
The thing about the Rule of Law is it keeps everyone accountable for their actions, and no one is above the law. This includes people trying to enforce it. The McMichaels claim they were trying to perform a Citizen's Arrest on Mr. Arbery, when in fact it was Ahmaud Arbery who was within his rights to defend himself.
The since-repealed Citizen's Arrest Statute O.C.G.A. §17-4-60 reads as follows:
A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.
To be arrested, there must be a crime. Here, there is no evidence that Mr. Arbery committed any offense. If we give the defense every benefit of the doubt, even assuming Mr. Arbery committed a misdemeanor trespass, it didn't happen within the presence of either Gregory or Travis McMichael or Mr. Bryan. Thus, Mr. Arbery “hauling ass” down the street wouldn't give rise to a citizen's arrest.
Because there's no evidence that Mr. Arbery committed a felony, none of the accused can claim that, even though the offense didn't happen in their presence, because Mr. Arbery was escaping by running away, they had reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion to arrest him. Therefore, Mr. Arbery had every right to ignore Travis Michael's request to stop or to talk.
When the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan “trapped” him with their trucks, kept harassing him or wouldn't leave him alone, Mr. Bryan hit Mr. Arbery with his truck hard enough to dent it, and Travis McMichael got out of his truck armed with a rifle, Mr. Arbery was within his rights to approach him and initiate physical conduct designed to ensure that Travis McMichael would leave him alone and allow Mr. Arbery to leave the area.
Since Mr. Arbery was justified in using self-defense here, that means that the McMichaels were not; you can't claim self-defense if you break into a house to burglarize it and the owner pulls a shotgun on you.
If the McMichaels weren't legally justified in using self-defense, then there is no defense for the killing of Mr. Arbery, and they should be found guilty. Mr. Bryan has a good chance at a lesser included but would still be culpable in trapping someone against their will by using his truck in conjunction with the McMichaels which later lead to a death.
Self-defense is everyone's right. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while trying to exercise it.
About Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph Tully
Attorney and author Joseph Tully is a leading California criminal lawyer and author who helps people defend their liberty and reputation in a broken criminal justice system. Known for his landmark Stand Your Ground self-defense win and numerous marijuana criminal defense trial victories, Joseph has a reputation for meticulously picking apart the prosecution's case to reveal the truth and restore justice. He can be seen as a guest on CourtTV and TV news programs as an expert TV criminal defense analyst.