Arizona Senate bill allows deadly force for property damage

The state Capitol building in Phoenix is pictured. (Photo by Visitor7, cc-by-sa-3.0, https://bit.ly/3o0fG5x)

The state Capitol building in Phoenix is pictured. (Photo by Visitor7, cc-by-sa-3.0, https://bit.ly/3o0fG5x)

PHOENIX – A bill sponsored by a Republican state senator set for a vote at any time would allow business owners or their employees to use deadly force to defend their property against smash-and-grab robbers if the robber possessed a dangerous weapon.

But critics of the proposal from Scottsdale Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita say the legislation is so broadly written that it would allow someone to shoot and kill someone just for scrawling graffiti on a wall while having something that might be deemed a weapon.

Ugenti-Rita acknowledged during a recent committee hearing that that was possible, but pointed to limits in her proposal that said the person had to possess a “deadly instrument” at the time they were “knowingly” damaging or defacing someone else’s property.

“Sadly we have become all too familiar with the looting and smash and grab thefts that have occurred across the country as a result, and has resulted in violence and property damage,” Ugenti-Rita said during a committee hearing last month. “I believe we need to strengthen our laws so that business owners will have a legal justification for using physical force or deadly force when defending their property.”

She said the reality is that businesses are the livelihoods of business owners and their employees and they should be able to defend them like they can their own home, although she said killing someone to stop the crime should be a last resort.

But Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and K.M. Bell of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona worried that the shield given to a property owner who uses deadly force is overly broad. And they noted that it applies to any property, not just a business that is being robbed.

“This would in effect allow members of the public to impose the death penalty for the spraying of graffiti,” Bell told the panel.

The Senate advanced the measure through floor debate Thursday with no comment. It was scheduled for a vote Monday afternoon but was one of several bills that were passed over during floor action.

Arizona already allows the use of deadly force to stop many crimes, including residential burglary, rape, kidnapping, arson and manslaughter. But Ugenti-Rita’s proposal allows the use of force to prevent any criminal property damage, including amounts so small that they would only lead to a four-month jail sentence.

Dana Allmond, a retired Army officer and mother of four who lives in Marana, told the committee she’s worried the proposal would embolden people to be “vigilantes” and lead to needless death. She said the bill creates an unfair and unjust reason to use deadly force for minor crimes like defacing property with graffiti.

“I feel like we may be encouraging those with malice intent to end our lives and the lives of our precious loved ones,” Allmond said. “And I can’t sleep at night worried about my kids.”

Ugenti-Rita said concerns about the law were misplaced. She said the origins of the law included the May 2020 riot at the Scottsdale Fashion Square where hundreds of people looted stores following the death of George Floyd and a series of smash and grab robberies in California and across the nation where gangs of people descended on retail stories. “You should be able to defend your business like you defend your home,” she said.

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