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Motor Vehicle Theft in Arizona

Posted on November 9, 2023 in

Car theft is a serious issue in Arizona with serious consequences. The state of Arizona is almost always in the top 10 states in the nation for total stolen vehicles. As a crime prevention measure, Arizona’s criminal justice system has strict laws in place penalizing people who take a vehicle that is the property of another without consent.

In Arizona criminal law, auto theft is a criminal offense classified into three types:

  • theft of means of transportation
  • unlawful use of means of transportation
  • unlawful failure to return rented or leased property

Theft of Means of Transportation

“Means of transportation” refers to motor vehicles, whether it is a car, a truck or a motorcycle.  A person commits the crime of theft of means of transportation in Arizona if he or she knowingly and without legal authority does any of the following:

  • takes control of another person’s means of transportation unlawfully with the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle
  • converts someone’s vehicle for unauthorized use or period of time when the vehicle is entrusted to them for a limited time
  • obtains another’s vehicle fraudulently or under false pretenses with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property
  • takes over a vehicle as their own personal property after it has been delivered to them by mistake and making no effort to inform the rightful owner, especially when the owner’s information is available
  • takes control of a vehicle when he or she knew or should have known if the property was stolen

Theft of means of transportation is the most serious and is tagged as a class 3 felony offense in Arizona. Those charged with a crime may be punished with a basic sentence of  2 – 7 years of prison time. If there are “aggravated circumstances” to the crime, such as a carjacking where the driver or their passengers were threatened during the crime, the maximum sentence can be as much as 12.5 years of incarceration.

Unlawful Use of Means of Transportation

In Arizona, you can be convicted of auto theft if you use a vehicle rightfully in your possession in an unauthorized manner or without permission from the owner. A person commits a crime of unlawful use of means of transportation, also called joyriding, if he commits any of the following acts without the intent of permanently depriving the owner of the vehicle:

  • knowingly takes control of a vehicle without authorization, or
  • knowingly rides or is in a vehicle if he knows or has reason to know that the person in control of the car is not legally authorized to have possession.

Unlawful use of means of transportation is a class 5 felony charge if it involves taking control or possession of a vehicle and a class 6 felony if it involves illegally riding or being in a stolen vehicle or one that was acquired through misappropriation.

The basic sentence for a class 5 felony is six months to two years of jail time. Class 6 felony is punishable with six months to eighteen months of prison time. With prior felony convictions, the prison sentence and penalties will increase for a repeat or subsequent criminal offenses.

Unlawful Failure to Return Rented or Leased Property

If a person who rents a motor vehicle in Arizona fails to return it within 72 hours of the agreed upon return time, and failed to notify the owner and acquire permission from the owner, they are facing criminal charges of unlawful failure to return rented or leased property.

Unlawful failure to return a rented or leased motor vehicle is a class 5 felony in Arizona, punishable by six months to two years of jail time.

When someone has committed the crime of unlawful failure to return a rented or leased property, including a motor vehicle, they need to get in touch with a criminal lawyer in order to come up with a realistic defense strategy. Some of the defenses that can be used include:

  • the defendant was physically incapacitated or was unable to request or secure permission from the owner to keep the property longer
  • the defendant could not return the property on time because of the condition of the property (and the poor condition was not the defendant’s fault).

Legal Representation of  Criminal Defense Lawyers

Criminal cases are best handled by an experienced criminal attorney on your side. If you have been charged with an Arizona motor vehicle crime, you will need the legal representation of someone who can defend you against felony charges. You will likely be going to prison even on a first offense. Arizona takes auto theft very seriously and sets a minimum prison term for all guilty verdicts. If you have been convicted, it becomes part of your permanent criminal record. Any similar criminal charges after that will be considered repeat offenses and will carry heavier penalties. Felonies can hurt you when you are are looking for a job, going for higher studies, or even looking for a house or apartment for rent. You will also lose your civil rights such as the right to vote and carry firearms. You also stand to lose certain professional licenses. As such, it is extremely important to work with a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix AZ if you are facing a motor vehicle crime charge. The law offices of Howard Snader have criminal lawyers who can help you dismiss the charges against you or explore plea bargain options. Our trial lawyers can represent you in a criminal trial. It helps to get someone who is already knowledgeable about the local court system in order to get the outcome most favorable to you. An acquittal or a not guilty verdict is not entirely impossible if you have established a strong defense with the help of your defense attorneys. If you have been arrested for auto theft, call us at the law office of Howard Snader and let our