Vehicle theft involves any theft of a motor vehicle (i.e. car, motorcycle, or truck) or failure to pay for a motor vehicle. In Phoenix, Arizona, there are three broad types of vehicle theft: theft of means of transportation, unlawful use of means of transportation, and unlawful failure to return leased or rented property. The first carries the most severe punishment and is what people most commonly think of as vehicle theft.
Theft of Means of Transportation
If a person takes control of any motor vehicle not belonging to them and without the knowledge of the owner, that person is guilty of this crime. This does not only include a person taking the car without the owner’s knowledge without intending to return it. If the perpetrator is offered the use of or responsibility for a car that is not their own and uses it for purposes not intended or authorized by the owner, that also qualifies as theft of means of transportation.
Taking control of a car that was wrongfully delivered to you or driving a car with the knowledge that it is stolen are also considered theft. A final way this theft is perpetrated is by unlawfully obtaining a car through falsified information, with the intent of depriving the owner of the vehicle.
Theft of means of transportation is a class 3 felony, and as such is punishable by jail time, probation, and monetary fines. Jail time is typically around three and a half years, but can be punishable by more than eight. The maximum fine for a class 3 felony is $150,000, and the maximum probation after release from prison is 3 years. Any prior convictions can make the sentence even harsher.
Unlawful Use of Means of Transportation
A person does not necessarily have to be controlling a stolen vehicle to be charged with vehicle theft. A passenger in a stolen vehicle who is aware that the vehicle is stolen can also be charged. The other reason a person can be charged with this crime is by taking the vehicle without authorization, but with the intent to return it. This outlined in Arizona Statute 13 – 1803.
A person caught joyriding is guilty of a class 5 felony, while the passengers in the car with him or her are guilty of class 6. The difference is essentially being in control of the stolen car. If the thieves can prove that they did not steal the car with intention of keeping it, they will only receive the punishments for class 5 and 6 felony, which ranges from a six month prison term to a term of two and a half years.
Unlawful Failure to Return Leased or Rented Property
The name of this charge is self explanatory. The renter or leaser must fail to return the property without explanation for 72 hours past its return date to be found guilty, though there are certain extenuating circumstances. For example, if the operator of the vehicle was physically unable to return the car on time and physically unable to obtain an extended return date from the vehicle’s owners, he or she will likely not be found guilty.
Another defense is if the car was damaged, through no fault of the operator, and could not be returned on time in its condition. If the damage was the fault of the operator and he or she does not manage to get it repaired before 72 hours past the return date, the defense may not be applicable.
Unlawful failure to return leased or rented property is considered a class 5 felony and can earn the perpetrator a maximum of two and a half years. Fines and probation time may also be a part of the sentence.
If you have been accused of car theft of any of the above types, you will need strong representation in court from an experienced Phoenix car theft attorney. Contact the Stewart Law Group for more information on how a criminal defense attorney can help you.