« Notable new news reports about declining prison populations in two "New" states | Main | Pervis Payne has death sentences set aside (based on intellectual disability) three decades after SCOTUS affirmed them (with focus on victim impact evidence) »

November 24, 2021

Sentencing basics for defendants convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

This afternoon brought a jury verdict in the closely watched case involving three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.  This AP story provides the context and the sentencing possibilities and other particulars now to follow:

A nine-count indictment charged all three men with one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony, in this case false imprisonment.

Travis McMichael was convicted of all nine charges. Greg McMichael was convicted of all charges except malice murder.  [William] Bryan was convicted of two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Malice and felony murder convictions both carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. The judge decides whether that comes with or without the possibility of parole.  Even if the possibility of parole is granted, a person convicted of murder must serve 30 years before becoming eligible. Multiple murder convictions are merged for the purposes of sentencing.

Murder can also be punishable by death in Georgia if the killing meets certain criteria and the prosecutor chooses to seek the death penalty.  Prosecutors in this case did not.

Each count of aggravated assault carries a prison term of at least one year but not more than 20 years. False imprisonment is punishable by a sentence of one to 10 years in prison....

The McMichaels and Bryan still face federal charges. Months before the three stood trial on state murder charges, a federal grand jury in April indicted them on hate crimes charges.  It’s an entirely separate case that’s not affected by the state trial’s outcome.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has scheduled jury selection in the federal trial to start Feb. 7.  All three men are charged with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping.  The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.  The federal indictment says the men targeted Arbery because he was Black.

November 24, 2021 at 05:37 PM | Permalink


Gregory McMichael is 65, so parole eligibility is very likely an academic question for him. Probably for William Bryan, age 52.

Posted by: Jason | Nov 24, 2021 8:05:53 PM

If these defendants are convicted in the Federal civil rights case, they may well receive life sentences, and there is no parole in the Federal criminal system, so the Georgia possibility of parole after 30 years could easily become irrelevant. The simultaneous Georgia and Federal prosecutions for the same criminal misconduct is a rare example of "Dual Sovereignty", not "Double Jeopardy", as most lay (non-lawyers) would see the situation.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 25, 2021 9:39:33 AM

Posted on wrong thread. These guys are just common criminals. They are no different from armed robbers who shoot a victim who resists.

One thing though, I don’t ever want to hear it from those who attack the felony murder rule. There was only one trigger man here.

Posted by: Federalist | Nov 26, 2021 8:29:13 AM


I don't understand. Why does this case justify the felony murder rule? I agree that all three of them should be punished for what they did, but in the absence of proof that the two non-triggermen intended for Arbery to be killed, I think a sentence of ten years for them would be about right. More than that is excessive.

Posted by: Poirot | Nov 26, 2021 10:55:40 AM

I am critical of the felony-murder rule. I think William and Gregory could easily be convicted of accessory to murder and McMichael for false imprisonment. However, until Georgia repeals felony murder which is highly unlikely due to the composition of the legislature, these men are facing life.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 26, 2021 6:56:22 PM

A more complete portrait of a miscarriage of justice could not be found.
Ugh. What a horrible country to live in.
I am shocked.I thought this trial would have takem a lot longer.
I wish it had taken a lot longer. Like 20 years or so.I

It is truly sincerely hard to understand it.
How could these men, protecting their own neighborhood against a known thug, be convicted?

It beggars belief!

What a horrible day in America.
What a horrible day in human history.

Posted by: restless94110 | Nov 26, 2021 9:38:34 PM

Yeah, not a fan of felony murder, even here. As mentioned, accessory or aider and abetter or attempted liability should be quite sufficient to convict and sentence.

Also not a fan of the federal prosecution absent a miscarriage of justice at the state level. Exactly what might constitute a miscarriage of justice is debatable, but some kind of state-level malfeasance would seem necessary.

I had read an article outside legal media that said 30 years minimum on the murder counts. I guess that conflated parole eligibility with the actual sentence. Mandatory life seems draconian.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Nov 28, 2021 11:17:55 AM

Georgia has some draconian laws sadly. Possession with intent to distribute meth or cocaine is 5-30 years. Voluntary manslaughter is 1-20 years. Armed robbery is a mandatory 10 years no parole.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 28, 2021 9:50:00 PM


And I would prefer that we execute these three, though I do understand why the prosecutor chose not to go that route, it would have just added a needless side-show to a case with enough existing tension.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 29, 2021 2:05:11 AM

I see it’s tough to address the issues I raise regarding felony-murder and non-triggermen. Saying, well they could have been convicted on accomplice liability just doesnt get it done. Consider the multiple party armed robbery where victim grabs gun. Even Doug has to admit I raise a difficult question.

Posted by: Federalist | Nov 29, 2021 1:14:03 PM

"Even Doug has to admit I raise a difficult question."

He also says he reads what I write.

How much that gets you is a "ymmv."

Posted by: Joe | Nov 29, 2021 2:28:34 PM

Oh boy—one of the things I didn’t miss—unproductive disputaciousness mixed in with annoying alacrity from Joe.

Pointing out that liberals have overlooked their general “ he wasn’t the trigger man” nonsense with this case is a great point. Joe obviously can’t dispute that; so he resorts to David French-esque twittery.

Posted by: Federalist | Nov 29, 2021 6:45:55 PM

I was wondering where you were.

I was not totally sure it was you, but hey.

I have found "Doug" really doesn't have to admit things I find rather clear. From experience, I have seen that with you and Doug too.

So, it was just a friendly remark, really. Touchy touchy.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 29, 2021 8:02:29 PM

The triggerman should get life no parole. I would be ok with death too, but it's not on the table.

For the other two, I would be ok with parole eligibility.

I don't agree with the Federal charges. Georgia is handling this just fine.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Nov 30, 2021 1:39:15 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB