Vehicle and Auto Theft Laws in Arizona

Arizona makes it a felony to steal a vehicle, take a vehicle for a "joyride," or steal a vehicle's engine or transmission. Felonies can result in prison time, steep fines, and a criminal record.

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The penalties for vehicle theft in Arizona depend on whether the person intends to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle or take it for a joyride. The law also makes it a crime to steal a vehicle engine or transmission.

Crimes Involving "Means of Transportation"

You'll find vehicle theft and related crimes under the following sections of Arizona's criminal code:

  • theft of means of transportation (§ 13-1814)
  • unlawful use of means of transportation (§ 13-1803), and
  • general theft for stealing an engine or transmission (§ 13-1802).

"Means of transportation" refers to any vehicle that can be used on a highway, waterway, or airway, such as a car, truck, motorcycle, or boat. These crimes all carry felony penalties. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-105 (2020).)

Felony Sentencing in Arizona

Arizona's felony sentencing laws include different sentencing ranges based on an offender's felony record and the circumstances surrounding the crime. For purposes of this article, we will list the presumptive (typical) sentence for a first felony offense and the maximum possible sentence (generally imposed only for the most serious, repeat offenders). (See Sections 13-702 and 13-703 in Arizona's statutes for more information.)

Theft of a Vehicle

Theft, in general, refers to knowingly taking another's property without authorization and with intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. The "taking" can occur through a physical taking, misrepresentation, or converting property for one's own use. It's also theft to take the property knowing it's stolen.

A person who steals another's vehicle (or means of transportation) commits a class 3 felony. The presumptive sentence for a first-time felon is three and a half years. The maximum sentence is 25 years. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1814 (2020).)

Unlawful Use of a Vehicle (Joyriding)

A person commits the crime of unlawful use of means of transportation (sometimes called joyriding) by taking a vehicle without authorization but not intending to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Taking a vehicle for a joyride is felony whether you're the driver or passenger. The driver or person who took control of the vehicle commits a class 5 felony. A passenger who knowingly participates in a joyride can be punished for a class 6 felony.

A person convicted of a class 5 felony faces a presumptive sentence of one and a half years for a first offense and a maximum sentence of seven and a half years. A class 6 felony carries a presumptive sentence of one year for a first offense and a maximum sentence of five years and nine months. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1803 (2020).)

Theft of a Vehicle Transmission or Engine

Arizona law also carves out felony penalties specific to stealing a vehicle transmission or engine. Under the general theft law, it's a class 4 felony to steal a vehicle engine or transmission, regardless of its value. A class 4 felony in Arizona carries a presumptive sentence of two and a half years for a first felony and a maximum sentence of 15 years. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1802 (2020).)

Other Vehicle Theft-Related Offenses

Other vehicle theft-related offenses include knowingly:

  • failing to return a rental vehicle within 72 hours of the agreed-upon time without good cause, and
  • failing to return or allow a secured creditor to take possession of a repossessed vehicle (after a 90-day default period and notice from the creditor).

Failure to return a rental car is a class 5 felony. It's a class 6 felony to fail to return a repossessed vehicle. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 1806, 1813 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

A conviction for any of Arizona's motor vehicle crimes is a felony conviction and becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A felony conviction can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. A convicted felon also loses the right to vote and carry firearms and can lose certain professional licenses. If you face charges for vehicle theft, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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