Auto Theft Laws in Arizona

Under Arizona law there are three different types of motor vehicle theft crimes: theft of means of transportation, unlawful use of means of transportation; and unlawful failure to return rented or leased property.

Theft of Means of Transportation

“Means of transportation” refers to any vehicle such as a car, truck, or motorcycle. A person commits the crime of theft of means of transportation in Arizona if he knowingly and without legal authority:

  • takes control of another’s vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle
  • converts another’s vehicle for an unauthorized use or period of time when the vehicle has been entrusted to him or placed in his possession for a certain period of time or use
  • obtains another’s vehicle using a material misrepresentation (a lie or fraud) with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle
  • takes over a vehicle as his own after it has been delivered to him by mistake and makes no effort to notify the actual owner (if the owner’s contact information is available), or
  • takes control of a vehicle knowing or having reason to know that it’s stolen.

Theft of means of transportation is a class 3 felony in Arizona. The basic sentence for a class 3 felony is 2 – 7 years in prison. If the defendant has prior felony convictions, the sentence can be higher.

Unlawful Use of Means of Transportation

A person commits the crime of unlawful use of means of transportation (sometimes called joyriding) if he does one of the following without the intent to permanently deprive 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 if it involves taking control or possession of a vehicle and a class 6 felony if it involves riding or being in a stolen or misappropriated vehicle.

The basic sentence for a class 5 felony is six months to two years imprisonment. The basic sentence for a class 6 felony is six months to eighteen months imprisonment. The sentence can be increased if the defendant has prior felony convictions.

Unlawful Failure to Return Rented or Leased Property

If a person rents property, including a motor vehicle, and without notice to the owner and permission from the owner knowingly fails to return it within 72 hours of the agreed upon return time, the person can be charged with the crime 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 imprisonment.

Defenses

There are specific defenses available to the crime of unlawful failure to return rented or leased property:

  • the defendant was physically incapacitated and unable to request or secure permission from the owner to keep the property longer, or
  • 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).

The Value of Good Representation

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.

No one should face felony charges without competent legal representation. An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.

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