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Motor Vehicle Theft

In Arizona, being accused of motor vehicle theft is a serious concern, leading to felony charges with long-lasting effects on your life. Navigating these charges requires the expertise and guidance of a seasoned criminal defense lawyer.

At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we understand the complexities of Arizona's vehicle theft laws and are committed to providing robust legal support. Our team is dedicated to exploring every legal avenue and developing a strong defense strategy tailored to your case.

Contact us for a comprehensive consultation, where we will lay the groundwork for your defense and strive for the best possible outcome.

An Overview of Arizona Vehicle and Auto Theft Laws

Arizona's approach to motor vehicle theft is stringent. Under Arizona law, auto theft is classified as the theft of means of transportation, encompassing various unauthorized actions involving another person's vehicle. Even using a vehicle you legally possess in an unauthorized manner can constitute auto theft.

Arizona imposes severe penalties for auto theft, categorized as a Class 3 felony. The severity of the punishment depends on the offender's criminal history.

For a first offense, the range of punishment varies from probation with no jail time up to one year in jail. However, under aggravated circumstances, the sentence can escalate to between 2 and 8.75 years in prison. For a second offense, the prison sentence ranges from 3.5 years to 16.25 years. A third or subsequent offense can lead to a prison sentence ranging from 7.5 years up to a maximum of 25 years.

Theft of means of transportation requires specific elements to be proven for a conviction:

  1. Unlawful control.
  2. Misuse of entrusted vehicle.
  3. Obtaining by misrepresentation.
  4. Possession of misdelivered or lost vehicle.
  5. Possession of known stolen property.

Meaning of Theft of Means of Transportation

Theft of means of transportation in Arizona, codified under ARS 13-1814, encompasses various forms of vehicle theft. This statute addresses the unauthorized taking of any vehicle, including cars, motorcycles, or trucks, without lawful authority.

The several scenarios under which you can be charged with the theft of means of transportation are:

  1. Unlawful Control for Permanent Deprivation. Controlling another person’s vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive them of it is a primary form of theft under this statute.
  2. Unauthorized Use of Entrusted Vehicle. If a vehicle is entrusted to a person for limited use and they use it in an unauthorized manner or time, it constitutes theft.
  3. Obtaining Through Misrepresentation. Acquiring a vehicle through material misrepresentation to permanently deprive the owner falls under this crime.
  4. Possession of Lost or Misdelivered Vehicle. Appropriating a lost or misdelivered vehicle without reasonably informing the true owner is considered theft.
  5. Knowing Possession of Stolen Property. Controlling a vehicle knowing, or having reason to know, that it was stolen is also punishable under this law​​​​.

Penalties and Sentences for Auto Theft in Arizona

The penalties for violating ARS § 13-1814 are severe. A conviction under ARS 13-1814 is classified as a Class 3 felony. This is opposed to a misdemeanor and represents a more severe criminal category.

For a first offense, the maximum prison term is up to eight years and nine months. This duration underscores the seriousness with which Arizona courts treat vehicle theft. The punishment escalates for those with prior felony offenses.

If the theft is classified as a dangerous offense, which may involve additional factors like endangerment or the use of a deadly weapon, the sentence can be as high as 15 years in prison​​​​.

ARS 13-1803, Unlawful Use of Means of Transportation

ARS 13-1803 governs the unlawful use of means of transportation, commonly known as joyriding, in Arizona. This law specifically addresses situations where an individual temporarily uses another person’s motor vehicle without the owner's permission. The offense is categorized as a Class 5 felony, underscoring the seriousness with which the state regards unauthorized use of vehicles, even temporarily.

The crime is classified as a felony. A first offense can lead to custody in state prison for up to two years and six months. The penalty increases for subsequent offenses, with a second offense punishable by up to three years and nine months in prison.

In addition to imprisonment, offenders may face a maximum fine of $150,000. If the crime is classified as dangerous, which may involve additional factors like endangerment or weapon use, the sentence can extend to four years in prison​​​​​​.

Several defenses can be employed against charges of joyriding under ARS 13-1803:

  1. You had the Owner’s Authority. A key defense is proving that the vehicle owner permitted the use of the vehicle.
  2. Claim of Right Over the Vehicle. This defense applies when you have a legitimate claim to the vehicle, such as when ownership is disputed.
  3. Lack of Probable Cause for Stop or Arrest. Contesting the legality of the stop or arrest by law enforcement can be a valid defense if there is no probable  cause​​.

Difference Between Theft and Joyriding

The primary distinction between theft and joyriding under Arizona law lies in the intent behind the act. Theft, as governed by ARS 13-1814, is characterized by the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle.

In contrast, joyriding under ARS 13-1803 does not involve an intent to permanently keep the vehicle. This difference in intent significantly affects how the law treats these two offenses, with theft generally carrying more severe penalties due to its permanent nature.

Theft of a Vehicle's Engine or Transmission

In Arizona, the theft of a vehicle's engine or transmission is a notably serious offense, classified under ARS 13-1802 as a Class 4 felony. This classification applies regardless of the value of the engine or transmission stolen. Understanding the legal consequences of such an offense is critical, particularly for those who might find themselves facing such charges.

ARS 13-1802 categorizes various theft offenses, including the theft of a vehicle's engine or transmission. According to this statute:

  1. Theft of property or services valued between $3,000 and $4,000 is generally a Class 4 felony.
  2. Specifically, any vehicle engine or transmission theft falls under a Class 4 felony, irrespective of its value​​​​.

As a first-time offender, the prison term can range from one to three years and nine months. Additionally, probationary sentences are possible, including no jail time or up to a year.

The severity of the penalties escalates if you have prior felony convictions. With two prior convictions, you could face a prison term of up to fifteen years.

Given the severity of these charges, legal representation is crucial. Experienced defense attorneys may employ various strategies, including challenging the evidence, proving the absence of intent, or negotiating plea agreements. Each case is unique, and a skilled lawyer can provide the best chance of a favorable outcome.

Theft of Catalytic Converters in Phoenix

The surge in catalytic converter thefts in Phoenix has prompted a legislative response to curb this trend. Arizona's approach to these thefts involves specific laws targeting both the theft and the resale of catalytic converters.

A.R.S. 13-3728 makes it illegal to purchase, solicit, advertise, possess, or sell a used catalytic converter or its nonferrous parts unless specific exceptions apply. The law aims to restrict the black market for catalytic converters, which has recently seen a significant rise​​.

However, there are certain exceptions to this blanket prohibition, including:

  • Automotive recyclers licensed under Title 28, Chapter 10, can possess or sell used catalytic converters as part of their business.
  • Commercial motor vehicle parts or repair businesses can deal in used catalytic converters if they also sell or install new ones, subject to specific conditions.
  • Transactions involving used catalytic converters must be reported to the Department of Public Safety​​.

House Bill 2652 (HB 2652)

Passed in May 2022, this bill further tightens regulations by making it illegal to request, advertise, or possess a used catalytic converter except for buying or selling it.

The law is inapplicable to licensed auto recyclers and scrap metal dealers conducting legal business. HB 2652 imposes responsibilities on these dealers, including mandatory reporting of transactions and assisting law enforcement with information about stolen items​​​​.

Violating A.R.S. 13-3728 is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Under federal law, removing a catalytic converter results in fines of up to $10,000. Additionally, HB 2652 sets fines between $500 and $4,000 for those violating its provisions.

Theft of Rental Vehicles

In Arizona, the unlawful failure to return a rented vehicle as per the agreement constitutes a serious offense. Governed by A.R.S. 13-1806, this act is classified as a Class 5 felony involving motor vehicles. Understanding the legal implications of this classification and the available defenses is crucial for anyone facing such charges.

A.R.S. 13-1806 defines the offense as knowingly failing, without good cause and without the lessor's permission, to return the rented property within 72 hours after the return time specified in the rental agreement​​.

If the rented or leased property in question is a motor vehicle, the unlawful failure to return it is categorized as a Class 5 felony.

For a Class 5 felony in Arizona, the consequences include:

  • Imprisonment from 6 months to 2.5 years in prison. However, this can increase to up to 8 years if the offense involves dangerous elements, aggravating factors, or if you have a prior criminal background​​.

You could use certain legal defenses if charged with unlawful failure to return rented vehicles, including:

  • Physical Incapacitation. If you cannot request or obtain permission from the lessor to retain the property, this can serve as a defense.
  • Condition of the Property. Another defense is if the property was, through no fault of the defendant, in a condition that made it impossible to be returned within the specified time​​.

What to do If Arrested for Theft of a Motor Vehicle

If you are arrested for the theft of a motor vehicle in Arizona, it is essential to understand your rights and the steps you should take to protect yourself legally.

Exercise Your Miranda Rights

Upon arrest, you have Miranda rights, which are critical to your defense. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Remember that anything you say can be used against you in court. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you​​.

Stay Calm and Silent

Staying calm and not answering questions until your attorney is present is important. Assert your right to remain silent, firmly but politely. Law enforcement officers are trained to gather information that may be used in your prosecution, so it's crucial not to provide any details that could be incriminating​​.

Understand the Criminal Defense Process

Following your arrest and the reading of your Miranda Rights, you should be aware of the next steps in the criminal defense process. This may include setting bail or being released on your own recognizance (OR). If bail is set, you must pay it in full to be released from custody. You may also be required to appear for criminal court proceedings or pre-trial hearings​​.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Immediately

Engaging with an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial. An attorney can help protect your rights and consider all possible defense strategies. This could include plea bargaining, suppressing evidence, or asserting an affirmative defense. The sooner you get legal representation, the better prepared you will be to handle your case​​​​.

Understanding Bail and Pre-trial Procedures

If bail is set, understanding the terms and conditions of your release is important. This includes complying with any requirements set by the court, such as appearing for scheduled hearings.

Follow Your Attorney’s Advice

Once you have legal representation, following their advice closely is important. Your attorney will guide you through the legal process, help you understand your options, and work towards the best possible outcome in your case.

Common Defenses for Motor Vehicle Theft

Legal defenses ensure your rights are protected and justice is served fairly. These include:

Mistake of Fact

"Mistake of fact" as a defense in motor vehicle theft cases in Arizona involves situations where you genuinely believed your actions were lawful, stemming from a factual misunderstanding. This defense hinges on the absence of intent to commit a crime due to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of facts. For example, if you take a vehicle and think it is yours due to a mix-up in a parking lot.

You Had the Owner’s Consent

Consent as a defense in motor vehicle theft cases in Arizona is predicated on the idea that the vehicle's owner granted you permission for its use. This permission could be either explicit or implied and might be proven through various means, such as witness testimony, written agreements, or statements made by the owner.

However, if the consent was limited in scope or duration and these limits were exceeded, the defense might not hold up. Similarly, if the consent was revoked and the vehicle was not returned on time, this could negate the defense.

Violation of Your Constitutional Rights

The defense of "Violation of Constitutional Rights" in motor vehicle theft cases in Arizona comes into play when there is an infringement of your rights as protected under the Constitution.

Key examples include unlawful search and seizure, where law enforcement searches without a warrant or probable cause, and improper administration of Miranda rights, which must be given to you at the time of arrest. These rights include being informed of the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Violations of these constitutional protections can lead to the suppression of evidence obtained through such violations, which may weaken the prosecution's case. In some instances, these violations can even result in the dismissal of the case, especially if the violation impacts the core of the evidence against the accused.

Coerced Statements

In Arizona, the defense of "coerced statements" in motor vehicle theft cases addresses situations where you were pressured, intimidated, or coerced into confessing or providing information. The law requires that any confession or statement you make be voluntary and free from coercion.

Coerced statements are generally deemed inadmissible in court as they violate the principles of free will and reliability, which are central to the justice system. Coercion can take many forms, including physical threats, psychological pressure, or promises of leniency.

If you show that your statement was obtained through coercion, it can be excluded from evidence, substantially impacting the prosecution's case.

Police Mistakes/Police Reporting Errors

Police mistakes or reporting errors can significantly impact a case involving procedural errors, evidence mishandling, or documentation inaccuracies. Such errors can undermine the reliability and admissibility of the evidence, potentially leading to its exclusion or a challenge to the investigation's credibility.

Physical Incapacitation

"Physical Incapacitation" is a particularly pertinent defense in rental vehicle cases. It applies when you cannot return the rented vehicle due to incapacitation and cannot communicate this incapacity to the rental company. This defense negates the intent to commit theft, demonstrating your inability to comply with the rental agreement due to circumstances beyond your control.

Find a Top Criminal Defense Attorney for Motor Vehicle Theft in Phoenix Near Me

Facing motor vehicle theft charges in Phoenix demands the expertise of a skilled criminal defense attorney. A felony conviction can impact your life beyond the courtroom, affecting your employment, housing, and voting rights.

At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, you will find aggressive representation and a dedicated team ready to fight for your rights. Contact us at 602-551-8092 for guidance and defense strategies tailored to your unique situation.

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