I just got off the phone with a friend who was issued a criminal citation for violating A.R.S. 13-2913, which is entitled “[u]nlawful violation of fire ban.” Here is the text of the statute, which I had to look up because I’d never read it before:
A. It is unlawful for a person to enter or remain in any public building or on any public property in violation of any order or rule that is issued by any officer or agency having the power of control, management or supervision of the building or property and that relates to the control and limitation of fires, including any prohibition, restriction or ban on fires, any provision to avert the start of or lessen the likelihood of wildfire and the designation of any place where fires are permitted, restricted, prohibited or banned.
B. A person who violates this section is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.
After first reading it, I had absolutely no clue what the statute actually criminalizes. How about you? Breaking it down, it now seems to me that the crime is 1) entering or remaining 2) on public property 3) in violation of any rule created by the person in charge of the property 4) when the rule relates to fires. In other words, it’s a class 2 misdemeanor to be on public property and violate a fire safety rule. Perfectly clear from the text of the statute, right? As it should be. Remember, ignorance of the law no mistake, something the presumably bored-to-tears officer told my friend as he gave him a criminal ticket.
If I’m right about the law’s meaning, which may or may not be the case given its confusing wording, it’s a troubling statute not just because it doesn’t give fair notice of what it prohibits, but because of the amazing scope of what it could prohibit. A class 2 misdemeanor isn’t a serious offense, but it’s a criminal offense nonetheless. The intent was probably to criminalize campfires on public lands where “no campfire” signs are posted and things like that, but it can also do a whole lot more. What about smoking a cigarette on public land? Making a fire in the fireplace of a cabin located in a state park? There’s no need for reductio ad absurdum here because of my friend’s situation. He was cited after supposedly being caught smoking a cigarette in his truck as he drove down a public road located on public land subject to a burn ban.
Not only could it criminalize all kinds of seemingly innocent behavior, like it did in my friend’s case, but it could do so without any notice whatsoever. Do you see any requirement that the fire safety rule be posted? From what I can tell, it doesn’t have to be a written rule or even one that is made public. There’s no requirement about how the rule must be created, nor does the statute set forth any minimum qualifications for the officer or agency creating the rule or the degree of power of control, management or supervision necessary to do so.
From what I can tell, it looks like someone can be subjected to four months of jail, two years of probation, and $750 in fines plus an 84% surcharge for a criminal offense based on a statute that is probably incomprehensible to most people and that criminalizes all kinds of innocuous conduct performed by people who have no knowledge of any rule prohibiting what they’re doing. What’s more, the underlying rule probably doesn’t have to be posted and can be issued by any person or agency with authority over any public place without following any type of established procedure. I couldn’t imagine a more deservingly ridiculous statute of the day.