PHOENIX — Invoking the name of a murdered convenience store clerk, a House panel voted Thursday to deny parole, probation or any type of early release to felons who were in this country illegally when they committed their crime.
Arizona law already allows judges to consider various factors in determining how long a sentence to impose. And one of those is the immigration status of the offender.
SB 1377 spells out if that is the case, a judge must impose at least the “presumptive” sentence for the crime. That denies the person any chance of arguing there are reasons for the court to be more lenient.
That means the legislation requires that full sentence to be served.
The 5-3 vote came after testimony from Steve Ronnebeck.
His son, Grant, was working the graveyard shift at a Mesa convenience store in January 2015 when he was shot, apparently for not giving someone his cigarettes fast enough.
According to police, the man arrested was in the country illegally, had been convicted of burglary in 2012 and was placed on probation. A judge had ordered immigration officials notified of his conviction.
But the elder Ronnebeck said the man who was captured actually had been out on a $10,000 immigration bond for more than 470 days.
The vote came over objections from several Democrats who said this was improperly targeting those in the country illegally. But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it is “reasonable policy” to consider someone’s immigration status as a factor, just as the law allows a judge to consider prior crimes someone has committed.
“People who are here illegally are already breaking the law,” he said.
“Illegal is a crime,” echoed Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.
Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, conceded that crossing the border illegally is a crime. But she said that if courts are forced to look to outside factors in determining sentencing and eligibility for release, they should be limited to “something nefarious.”
She said that means something that shows there is a tendency of someone to be violent or is likely to reoffend. Simply being in the country illegally, Mach said, does not fit that definition.
But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said foes of the bill have thrown out “every single possible red herring” to say why a person’s legal status should not matter. He said these range from the costs of keeping people in prison to questions of race.
And Finchem said the state would not need legislation like this “if the federal government would only to its limited job” of securing the borders.
The measure now needs approval of the full House.