I've seen a fair amount of negative comment about the guilty verdicts for the three defendants in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial. I think such comments are not only misplaced, but display a fundamental misunderstanding of the law in almost every jurisdiction.
The law does not give anyone a license to play vigilante, which is what the three men just convicted were clearly doing. They admitted as much in their own words. Even worse, from their point of view, they admitted it to police while they were being questioned, but before they had a lawyer to advise them. There's a reason defendants are advised to say nothing to the authorities before they've consulted their defense attorney. The three men in this case ignored that time-honored advice, and it came back to haunt them.
In most US jurisdictions, citizens do have a right to make an arrest - but only when they see a serious crime being committed in their presence, and are in a position to immediately stop that crime, or prevent the escape of the perpetrator, by detaining him until arresting officers arrive on the scene. If they see someone after the commission of the crime, even if they suspect he's the guilty party, they do not have that certain knowledge - only suspicion. They can call the police, describe him, describe his vehicle, tell them where he is and where he's going, and so on - but they do not have the right to "play cop" and arrest him, because the element of immediacy is lacking. Jurisdictions vary in how they word their legislation to that effect, but the general principle is usually as I've described it.
Too many people get carried away by their sense of macho. "I'm capable of doing it, so I'm gonna do it!" Sadly for them, that's simply not true as far as the law is concerned. We should be grateful for that - otherwise we'd have wannabe cops springing up like mushrooms all over the place. The history of vigilantism offers many examples where innocent persons have suffered under "mob law" because there was no attempt to establish the facts of the matter. I've seen that personally in other parts of the world, and it's sickening. (I described one such incident in an earlier blog post.)
There does appear to be evidence that Ahmaud Arbery may have been guilty of theft immediately prior to his death. However, we'll never know for sure now, because he was killed before he could be tried and convicted. Those who murdered him have now been convicted themselves, largely on the basis of their own prejudiced attitudes and ill-advised admissions. They broke the law, they admitted to it, and they've been convicted of it. Whether or not Mr. Arbery was guilty, that's as it should be.