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On New Year’s Day in 2016, Matthew Aaron Dutra walked into an Arizona sandwich shop with a stun gun, demanded money from a 16-year-old employee, and left with the stolen cash, all within approximately 30 seconds. Moments later, the then-47-year-old was struck by a car, leading him to be caught with the stun gun and the money a short distance from the restaurant where the robbery had been reported.

Dutra was convicted last year of armed robbery, aggravated assault and kidnapping, all felonies, and was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences. The sentence was mandatory due to Dutra’s eight pervious felony convictions, which included three armed robbery and two robbery charges, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Dutra appealed, and the Arizona Court of Appeals sought to determine whether the confinement and movement of the employee behind the counter, under Dutra’s threats, fit the definition of “kidnapping” under Arizona law. During the robbery, the employee took three steps backward toward an employees-only door, then two steps forward to open the cash register and give Dutra the money. In a motion for a directed verdict on the kidnapping charge, Dutra argued the State showed no evidence that he restrained the employee, but the court denied the motion, saying, “(…) she was interfered with substantially. Her person – her personal liberty. She wasn’t free to move.”

The appeals court states that the Arizona kidnapping statute, which was established in 1978, defines kidnapping as “knowingly restraining another person with the intent to … aid in the commission of a felony.” They add that restraining someone is defined as restricting their movements, without legal authority, without the person’s consent and in a way that “interferes substantially with such person’s liberty,” which can include forcibly moving the person or confining them.

The judges note that the code, unlike some other states’ codes and the Model Penal Code (a non-mandatory set of guidelines for standardizing penal law), does not require the victim to have been moved any specific distance, or for any specific length of time. They also note that the code and previous decisions in Arizona show that restraint beyond what is necessary to complete another crime is not required for a kidnapping conviction. They mention comments by a former Arizona judge pointing out that nearly every armed robbery would also fit Arizona’s definition of kidnapping.

The judges weigh decisions in other states and in Arizona, as well as the relevance of the manner of restraint and nature of the place where the victim is confined (ex. a dangerous or secluded area). Ultimately, although Dutra had little-to-know physical contact with the victim, the court determined that his threats with the stun gun and verbal commands to the employee confined her behind the counter, and compelled her to move to hand him the money. They found that this confinement and forced movement meant they could not deny that Dutra did “interfere substantially” with the victim’s liberty, satisfying the conditions for kidnapping as stated in the law.

Adding that Dutra received a fair trial with proper representation and due process, the court affirmed his convictions and sentences. His sentence off three consecutive life prison terms includes no possibility of release for 35 years.   

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