Summary:

SB 1142: Expands the definition of racketeering to include planning to protest

When this post was updated, SB 1142 failed. The information below is still relevant and gives you a good overview of this bill they are trying to resurrect. According to this AZ Daily Star report, thanks to the public getting “all riled up”, this unconstitutional law was shelved . . . til now:

AZ House Speaker: JD Mesnard said if Arizona does need to expand its rioting laws — and he hasn’t decided that question — it needs to be done in a more open fashion, with input from all sides. And the speaker said it’s too late now to start that process this session, especially with the public all riled up.

“It doesn’t even matter what policy’s in the bill at this point,” Mesnard said.

“You’ve got to put it to bed so that you can convey comfort and confidence in the government to the people out there,” he said. “There clearly is a belief this bill is going to infringe on fundamental constitutional rights.”

And he said it’s irrelevant whether the outpouring of opposition to the measure, which got national attention, is based on a misperception of what it actually does.
“We have to be sensitive to public perception,” he said.

The legislation would have expanded the definition of rioting, which already is illegal, to include damage to property. More significantly, it would have allowed allow prosecutors to charge people with conspiracy ahead of any actual event and permit them to go after the assets of those they contend were involved in planning a demonstration.

And under current racketeering laws, the burden of proof to take someone’s property does not require that anyone actually be charged with a crime, much less convicted.

Levi Bolton, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, who was instrumental in crafting the language, said SB 1142 was designed to provide prosecutors an additional tool to go after those who are involved in planning demonstrations. But he said it would not be abused because the only way it could be used to charge an organizer criminally or go after that person’s assets would be to show a “nexus” to those people who are actually breaking the law, like smashing windows.

Kavanagh acknowledged he knows of no situations in Arizona where such a law would be needed. But he said that’s irrelevant because he believes, based on what he’s seen on TV, that it’s happening elsewhere.

“I see young people wearing ski masks who are clearly leading the violence in riots like in Berkeley throwing barricades through windows,”

“They are an organized group, that is obvious,” Kavanagh continued. And he said racketeering laws are needed “to get to secretive, organized groups that either plan riots or plan to inject themselves into peaceful demonstrations and turn them into riots.”

Explanation:

Arizona State Senator John Kavanagh (R-23) has introduced a bill that is seen by many as an attempt to crack down on recent protests. This bill would expand the definition of racketeering, criminal acts that are profit-motivated, to cover rioting, where rioting includes an overt act that damages others private property. This would mean that participating in a riot could lead to charges that, among other punishments, takes away property from rioters. Controversially, this bill affects more people than those who directly cause damage to private property, an act that is already a crime. The charges of racketeering could include those who planned a riot or protest even if they do not themselves damage property or incite an overt act. As reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, State Sen. Kavanagh has said that this bill is intended to combat “…full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder.”

Opponents of this bill are worried about the possible acts that could be considered criminal if this bill were to pass. Consider the possible scenario: If someone were to plan a peaceful protest, for example the Tucson Women’s March, and one person from the crowd, who no one knew or associated with, were to break a window or damage a car, the people who organized and planned the event could be charged with racketeering. The damage of property that sometimes occur during protests are not always planned or desired by the protesters. As Sen. Martin Quezada (D-29) has said, “When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community… Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.’’ The punishment for this could include confiscation of property used to plan or carry out the protest. As State Sen. Steve Farley (D-9) has brought up, the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side. This law poses a chilling effect on protests on both the left and the right side of the spectrum. The potential of guilt by association could in effect take away the democratic right to protest.
This bill has passed through the State House, and is on its way to the senate.

Please contact your state senators and let them know your opinion on this 1st Amendment issue.