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Fri, Sept. 20

Voters to decidce on criminals right to sue

PHOENIX -- Arizonans are going to get a chance to decide whether criminals can sue those who they were trying to victimize in the first place.

On a 40-19 margin, the House gave final approval to SCR 1020. With the Senate already having given its blessing, the final word will be up to voters next year.

At the heart of the issue are two provisions of the Arizona constitution which specifically bar legislators from ever eliminating the right of anyone to sue or limiting the amount of damages that can be recovered in cases of death or injury.

What's wrong with that, according to Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is it allows someone who gets injured while burglarizing a house to turn around and sue the property owner.

The change Pearce wants voters to approve would add an exception saying a crime victim is not subject to being sued by someone who is harmed while attempting to engage in a felony, actually committing a felony or fleeing.'

But House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he feared the language was overly broad and could provide immunity in improper situations.

For example, he said, a criminal might be fleeing a law enforcement officer. But Campbell said that should not give the officer the right to shoot that person in the back and then be immunized against any damages.

Janice Goldstein, executive director of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, whose members represent plaintiffs in lawsuits, also said she feared "unintended consequences.'

"We certainly support the rights of victims,' Goldstein said. But she said this could end up immunizing corporations for the reckless acts of their employees.

Goldstein also questioned the need for the change. She pointed out there already are laws on the books which give certain protections for anyone who is a crime victim.

Pearce disagreed.

"We know in this litigious world that people are sued every day for doing absolutely nothing at all,' he said. Pearce said the constitutional change will keep crime victims from having to go to court to defend themselves in the first place.

He also rejected the idea that the legislation could be used to shield someone -- even a police officer -- who shoots a fleeing criminal in the back.

"If you do that, it's a criminal case,' Pearce said, saying a civil lawsuit "would be the least of your problems.'

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