Maricopa County attorney explains Arizona law on use of deadly force

Apr 20, 2023, 3:55 PM

PHOENIX – After multiple recent national incidents of people getting shot after seemingly minor mistakes, the Valley’s top prosecutor discussed Arizona’s self-defense laws on Wednesday.

“I appreciate news outlets getting the information out about what exactly is allowed in Arizona and what is not allowed,” Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said during a press conference.

State statute defines when threatening or using deadly physical force, like a gun, is considered justified, she said.

“When you can use deadly physical force is when a reasonable person would believe that deadly physical force … is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly physical force,” she said.

Mitchell explained Arizona’s laws following three recent high-profile shootings involving victims who came into contact with their shooters by mistake.

  • On April 13, a teenage boy was shot and wounded after going to the wrong Kansas City, Missouri, home to pick up his younger brothers. Legal experts expect the 84-year-old suspect to claim self-defense and cite Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
  • Two days later, a woman looking for a friend’s house in upstate New York was shot and killed after the car she was riding in mistakenly went to the wrong address. The 65-year-old shooter was booked for second-degree murder.
  • Early Tuesday, a man shot and wounded two cheerleaders in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one of them said she mistakenly got into his car thinking it was her own. The 25-year-old suspect faces a charge of engaging in deadly conduct, a third-degree felony.

Mitchell didn’t directly address how these incidents might be viewed under Arizona law. She did say that while Arizonans don’t legally have to retreat from a perceived threat, charges such as aggravated assault, attempted murder or murder could apply when deadly force is used and the “reasonable person” and “immediately necessary” criteria aren’t met.

“A person who is unarmed and not presenting any particular type of threat, that does not pass this test and that would be a situation where the person could be charged for shooting the individual,” Mitchell said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Luke Forstner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Maricopa County attorney explains Arizona law on use of deadly force