What is the Penalty for Car Theft in Arizona?

Car theft is a serious crime in Arizona that carries severe consequences. In 2017, Arizona experienced 19,058 stolen vehicles. That’s 3.4 percent more than 2016. This crime is such a problem in Arizona that the state formed the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority (AATA) in 1992 to work to reduce the rate of auto theft in the state.

While the efforts have moved Arizona from being ranked number one for auto thefts in the country down to number 15, it’s still a concerning problem for the state. Because of that, the state is very serious about auto theft and prosecutes offenders to the full extent of the law.

Individuals facing criminal charges for car thefts in the state need to be aware of the penalties and consequences they could face if convicted. We’ll outline what you can expect and how to build an auto theft defense.

Defining an auto theft

Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1813 and 13-1814 outline what constitutes auto theft in the state. The law specifically outlines theft of any means of transportation without the owner’s permission. This refers to any kind of vehicle.

You could be charged with auto theft if you do any of the following illegal actions.

  • Take someone else’s vehicle to deprive them of it permanently.
  • Transform a vehicle for other uses when the owner has entrusted the vehicle to you.
  • Take control of someone else’s vehicle through fraud or dishonesty.
  • Use or take ownership of a vehicle that you have reason to believe might be stolen.

While situations surrounding auto theft might seem obvious to you, one situation people don’t consider is failure to return a vehicle. This commonly occurs when someone leases a vehicle and then is contractually required to return it within a set timeframe.

Failing to return the vehicle within a reasonable time is considered auto theft. Even if the lease timeframe is not up, but you’ve failed to make payments on the vehicle, you must return it within 90 days. If you don’t, the vehicle’s owner can report the car as stolen.

Another situation many people don’t consider when thinking about auto theft is the unlawful use of a vehicle. We commonly refer to this action as joyriding because the owner has not provided permission for you to use the vehicle.

Penalties for an Arizona auto theft conviction

If you’re charged with auto theft, you’re likely looking at a Class 3 felony charge. First-time offenders generally face jail sentences of two to seven years. However, a good Arizona criminal defense attorney might be able to argue for probation to avoid jail time. Repeat offenders can face prison sentences of three and a half years to 25 years.
Failing to return a leased vehicle carries a lesser sentence but is still considered a felony. You could face between six months and two years in prison if convicted. Unlawfully using a vehicle is a Class 6 felony under Arizona law.

Criminal defense strategies for auto theft

Arizona law requires that owners report stolen vehicles by signing an affidavit that outlines the crime facts. A police officer must notarize the affidavit and then have it mailed to the courts. If these procedures are not followed perfectly, your attorney can use those details to challenge the charges against you.

Your criminal defense attorney will craft a strategy based on the details surrounding the charges you’re facing.

When it comes to auto theft, the easiest defense strategy is to prove that the owner allowed you to drive the vehicle freely. Another common defense strategy is to prove that you did not know you were using the vehicle without the owner’s consent.

Contact our office for more information on criminal defense for auto theft in Arizona.