ARS § 13-1602 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of criminal damage. People typically commit this offense when they recklessly damage, deface or tamper with another person’s property. A violation of this law could lead to a Class 4 felony charge punishable by almost four years in state prison.
The language of ARS 13-1602 states, “a person commits criminal damage by:
- Recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person.
- Recklessly tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value.
- Recklessly damaging property of a utility.
- Recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water.
- Recklessly drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign, or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure, or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.
- Intentionally tampering with utility property.”
- hitting a person’s mailbox with a baseball bat.
- recklessly setting fire to a utility pole.
- hitting a homeowner’s fence while recklessly driving a car and causing a car accident.
People have the right to challenge criminal damage charges with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that they:
- did not act recklessly,
- did not commit any property damage, and/or
- acted out of necessity.
A conviction in a criminal damage case is a wobbler offense. This means that a prosecutor can charge the crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the dollar amount of damage that a defendant caused.
The most severe convictions under this statute are charged as Class 4 felonies, which are punishable with prison time of almost four years.
The least severe convictions are charged as Class 2 misdemeanors, which are punishable by jail time of up to four months.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “criminal damage”?
A person can commit Arizona criminal damage in one of six different ways. A person commits the offense when he/she:
- recklessly defaces or damages another person’s property,i
- recklessly tampers with another person’s property so as to impair its function or value,
- recklessly damages the property of a utility,
- recklessly parks a vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to available water,
- recklessly draws or inscribes a message, slogan, sign, or symbol on public, private, or community property, a building, structure, or surface and without the permission of the owner,ii or
- intentionally tampers with utility property.iii
For purposes of this statute, a person acts with “recklessness” if he/she performs some act even while aware that it creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk. The risk involved must be of such nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.iv
Note that aggravated criminal damage is a different crime than criminal damage. Aggravated criminal damage is an offense under ARS 13-1604, and applies to property damage to specific places/buildings, like a:
- mortuary, or
- educational facility.v
2. Are there defenses to charges under ARS 13-1602?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies/disclaimers to help clients contest damaged property charges under this statute. Three common ones include showing that accused people:
- did not act recklessly.
- did not cause property damage.
- acted out of necessity.
2.1 No reckless act
In most criminal damage cases, a prosecutor has to prove that a person acted recklessly in order to secure a conviction. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that his/her actions were not reckless. Perhaps, for example, the defendant accidentally damaged someone’s property. Or maybe the accused did so without ignoring some risk that his/her actions would result in harm being done.
2.2 No property damage
People often have to cause some type of property damage to be found guilty of criminal damage. Therefore, defendants can raise the defense that, even though they may have taken some reckless act, they did not cause any damage to another person’s property.
A necessity defense asserts that an accused had a sufficiently good reason to commit an offense. In the context of criminal damage, defendants can try to show that they committed the crime because they had no other choice (for example, because of an emergency).
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of ARS 13-1602 is a wobbler. This means a prosecutor can charge it as either:
- felony criminal damage, or
- misdemeanor criminal damage.
The dollar amount of property damage that a defendant causes typically determines how the offense gets charged.
For example, the crime is a:
- Class 4 felony (punishable by up to almost four years in state prison) if the property damage is $10,000 or more,
- Class 5 felony (punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in prison) if the property damage is between $2,000 and $10,000,
- Class 6 felony (punishable by up to two years in prison) if the property damage is between $1,000 and $2,000.
- Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year in jail) if the property damage is between $250 and $1,000.
- Class 2 misdemeanor (punishable by up to four months in jail) if the property damage is below $250.vi
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three offenses related to criminal damage. These are:
- trespass – ARS 13-1503,
- harassment – ARS 13-2921, and
- hit and run – ARS 28-662.
4.1 Trespass – ARS 13-1503
Per ARS 13-1503, trespass in the second degree is the crime where people knowingly enter or remain unlawfully on a nonresidential property or in any fenced commercial yard.
Note that if a person trespasses under this statute, and then damages something while on the property, he/she could be charged with both:
- trespassing, and
- criminal damage.
4.2 Harassment – ARS 13-2921
Under ARS 13-2921, harassment is the offense where:
- people engage in conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed, and
- the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys or harasses the person.
Unlike criminal damage, this statute involves harmful acts towards a person rather than some property.
4.3 Hit and run – ARS 28-662
Per ARS 28-662, hit and run is the crime where people:
- get into a car accident that causes damage to another vehicle, and
- fail to stop at the scene of the accident.
Both this statute and ARS 13-1602 can apply in situations that involve property damage to a vehicle.