A Legacy of Slavery: The Citizen’s Arrest Laws of Georgia and South Carolina

Citizen’s arrest laws were a key component of Georgia’s and South Carolina’s efforts to control their black populations—both enslaved and free—in the 1860s, and their current status as enforceable law is a continual reminder of slavery’s legacy. The citizen’s arrest laws of these states are not what they ostensibly appear to be, and existing statutory language fails to provide their original intent. Exploring historical context and the intended meaning of statutory language is essential to understanding why Georgia and South Carolina initially codified citizen’s arrest laws.

This Note explores the origin and use of citizen’s arrest laws in Georgia and South Carolina. Part II discusses the current citizen’s arrest laws in these states and includes a review of relevant case law. Because Georgia and South Carolina relied on slave labor as their primary economic engine in the 1860s, Part III explores the methods developed by each state to control their slave populations. Part IV examines the codification of each state’s citizen’s arrest laws with a particular focus on the South Carolina Black Code. Finally, Part V explores the legacy of slavery and describes how continued use of citizen’s arrest laws are an ever-present reminder of their origin.