Harold Fish Conviction Overturned
AZ Legislature Passes Retroactive Self-Defense Law
The Arizona Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of Harold Fish and chastised the judge who tried the case. Fish was the retired school teacher who shot a man who charged at him swinging his arms and yelling threats. Fish was convicted of Second Degree Murder in 2006 and has spent the intervening three years in an Arizona State Prison. The Appeals Court ruled that Fish should have been allowed to introduce evidence of his attacker’s violent past and the vicious histories of the man’s dogs which triggered the tragic event.
The Arizona State Legislature passed a law shifting the burden of proof in self-defense cases from the defense to the prosecution, but the judge tried the case under Arizona’s previous law which required the defense to prove that the defendant acted in self-defense. This week the Arizona Legislature passed another bill clarifying that the new self-defense standard should have been applied to the Fish case.
News of both the Appeals Court decision and the Legislature’s action broke within 24 hours of each other on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 – July 1, 2009. The news means that at the very least Fish should receive a new trial and could be set free without a trial if the Coconino County Prosecutor’s Office chooses not to retry the case. It is possible that the State Attorney General’s Office could appeal the Appeals Court decision to the State Supreme Court, but that is not considered likely by most observers. If the case goes to a new trial, it is likely that it would be tried under the newer proof standards even without the Legislatures new bill, but that is not guaranteed unless the Governor signs the pending bill; something her predecessor, now Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, vetoed in 2007.
Meanwhile, Harold Fish remains in prison as he waits for the Attorney General and County Prosecutor to decide how they are going to proceed – which they probably won’t do until well after the Independence Day holiday. Something Fish supporters say is sadly ironic.