Although Arizona is known as one of the most conservative states in the country, not all the news coming out of the legislature is based on right-wing theory. What follows are some of the changes this year in our criminal laws. Some, you might find, are surprisingly forward-thinking. Here are a few examples:

  • Asset Forfeiture. For many years, Arizona’s asset forfeiture laws have been under attack as being unconstitutional. The laws permitted seizure and forfeiture of assets on thin grounds, and made it difficult for most people to challenge the seizure of their property, even when unsupported by a criminal charge. Under the new law (HB2477), law enforcement is required to issue reports on assets seized, there is an increased burden of proof required prior to forfeiture, and it eliminates a provision that made it economically unfeasible for many people to challenge a forfeiture in court.
  • Criminal Records. Recidivism is a huge issue in this country. The recidivism rate measures the likelihood that someone who broke the law at one time will do it again after being released from confinement. As an example, it was estimated in a study around 10 years ago that on the federal level, around 45% of former prisoners were arrested within 5 years after their release from federal prison. With this concept in mind, Arizona lawmakers passed HB 2290 and HB 1071. The new laws (a) allow some who would otherwise be barred from receiving an occupational license to obtain a provisional license, and (b) require the Arizona DOC to maintain a graduated sanctions system for those on community supervision. Both laws are intended to increase the ability of ex-offenders to find and maintain employment, and thereby decrease the chances that they will find it necessary or appropriate to break the law after their release.
  • Cell Phone Tracking. Tracking a person’s whereabouts using cell phone tracking equipment has become a favored tool of the law enforcement community. The equipment can be used – and has been used – by the police to follow the whereabouts of people who were not even suspects in a criminal case. How big is the issue? With 95% of Americans owning cell phones, the problem is huge. While some courts are still divided on the constitutionality of the practice, Arizona lawmakers have dealt head-on with the issue through the passage of what is now codified in Article 34 of Title 13. What the new law says is that, subject to some exceptions, before using a cell site simulator or other cell phone tracking device, the police need to obtain a search warrant based upon probable cause. Good news for the citizens, and a definite score against Big Brother.

We point these new laws out to provide information to our readers, and to show that not all the Arizona legislative news is bad. We should also give credit where credit is due. The impetus behind many of these progressive laws is provided by the ACLU.

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