Three-time violent offenders could be sent away for life under the terms of legislation approved Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The “three strikes” legislation would require anyone convicted of three violent or aggravated crimes to be automatically sentenced to life behind bars, without possibility of parole for 35 years. The proposal, if it survives the full legislative process, would have to be approved in November by voters.
SCR1010 is one of three key proposals approved Monday on the issue of law and order. The same committee also voted to alter state law to presume that anyone who claims they killed someone in self-defense is telling the truth. It would then be up to prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justified.
Right now the law in Arizona — and in only one other state — requires someone who uses deadly force to prove that he or she was justified. That presumption bothers Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee.
“It’s extremely important that people in this country are considered innocent until proven guilty,” said Bee, a Tucson Republican. He said the current statute puts people in the position of having to prove their innocence.
The 7-1 vote on SB1145 came over the objection of Ed Cook, lobbyist of Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council, who said the measure is opposed by all 15 county attorneys.
“It’s going to make the public more unsafe,” he said. “It’s going to extend a tactical defense, a tactical excuse to seasoned criminals who can beat the system.”
This legislation also includes some provisions also in HB2392 designed to enhance the “castle doctrine” to let individuals protect their homes and cars.
That measure, which gained final approval Monday by the House of Representatives on a 36-21 vote, says a person is legally justified in using deadly physical force when someone either unlawfully or forcibly enters a residence or vehicle. But that presumption would not apply if the victim had the right to be in the home or vehicle or was the parent, grandparent or legal guardian of a child being taken from the car or house.
Those who shoot police officers who properly identify themselves also would not have the protection of the proposal.
Existing state law says those convicted of repeated offenses can be sentenced to longer prison terms. But that is different than laws in more than 20 states and the federal government which have some form of a “three strikes” law.
But unlike some states, this proposal is triggered only by certain specified
offenses, including murder, assault, rape, armed robbery, arson of an occupied structure, kidnapping, child prostitution and drive-by shootings.
Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, who crafted the legislation, said that there are people whose repeated criminal acts requires that they be separated from society.
But Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, said the proposal is flawed in that it would similarly punish both prior convicts and those who commit multiple offenses in a short period of time.
Brotherton wound up on the losing end of that debate as the committee approved the measure by a 5-2 vote.
This is far from the last word on the measure. Aside from having to be approved by the full Senate and House, the bill would have to be ratified by voters in November.