Arizona has a bill pending. While, on some level, it has a certain appeal, it’s an example of a knee-jerk reaction to a single event. That event, by the way, didn’t occur in Arizona. Rather, it happened over 2,000 miles away, on the east coast of Florida. Here’s the story.
Back in 2016, a man was apparently drowning in a retention pond in Cocoa, Florida. Five teenagers stood on the shore and took a 2-minute video of the event, but did nothing to help the man, who eventually drowned. Florida law did not require action on the part of the teens. The police could only recommend that they be charged with failing to report a death, which is a misdemeanor.
The reaction by Arizona state Senator John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) was to introduce a bill, SB 1016, which would make it a misdemeanor to fail to report a “life-threatening emergency” to a police officer, fire department or similar emergency group, if the person “knows” that someone is exposed to or has suffered such an emergency. A violation would be a class 1 misdemeanor.
There are a couple of problems with the bill, which is somehow still afloat, even though Kavanagh himself has acknowledged that it would be difficult to enforce. Actually, that’s probably an significant understatement. Here are a few of the difficulties the state would have trying to prove the case:
- What is a life-threatening emergency? The term is not defined in the proposed law.
- How do you show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant “knew” that someone was suffering a life-threatening emergency?
- Does someone have to be in the immediate vicinity of the emergency in order for the law to apply to him or her?
- If a person doesn’t have a phone, and therefore can’t dial 9-1-1, what are his or her legal duties?
Obviously, we’re not coming out in favor of allowing people to die needlessly in emergency situations. What the boys did was outrageous. On the other hand, legislating morality every time we see an example that causes someone outrage seems a bit much. And doing it with an ambiguous law that will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce, is simply a mistake.
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