ARS 13-4702 is the Arizona statute that makes it a crime for a person to own or operate a chop shop. A “chop shop” is any lot or place where someone alters or stores a vehicle or vehicle parts while knowing that they were obtained by theft or fraud. A violation of this law can lead to a Class 2 felony charge punishable by over twelve years in state prison.
The language of ARS 13-4702 states: “A person shall not knowingly:
- Own or operate a chop shop.
- Transport a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part to or from a chop shop.
- Sell or transfer to or purchase or receive from a chop shop a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part.
- Remove, destroy, deface or otherwise alter a vehicle identification number with the intent to misrepresent or prevent the identification of the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part.
- Buy, sell, transfer or possess a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part knowing that the motor vehicle identification number, which was placed on the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part by the manufacturer, has been removed, destroyed, defaced or otherwise altered.”
- owning an operation that stores stolen property and stolen motor vehicle parts.
- operating a car business while knowing that the vehicles were obtained by means of aggravated robbery.
- defacing a vehicle identification number to try and hide a car’s identity.
People facing a charge of owning a chop shop can contest it with a legal defense. A few common defenses include accused people showing that:
- they did not operate a “chop shop,”
- they did not know that cars or car parts were obtained via theft or fraud, and/or
- law enforcement conducted an unlawful search or seizure.
A violation of this criminal law is a felony offense (as opposed to a misdemeanor). In particular, a prosecuting attorney can charge the crime as either a Class 2 felony or a Class 4 felony depending on the facts of the case.
While a Class 2 felony is punishable by a prison term of over 12 years, a Class 4 felony is punishable by over three years in prison.
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 “operating a chop shop”?
Arizona law makes it a crime for a person to own or operate a chop shop.i
A “chop shop” is a place where someone alters, destroys, disassembles, dismantles, reassembles, or stores a vehicle or vehicle parts while knowing that they were obtained by theft or fraud.
ARS 13-4702 also makes it a crime for people to:
- transport a motor vehicle or vehicle part to or from a chop shop,
- sell or transfer to or purchase or receive from a chop shop a vehicle or vehicle part,
- remove, destroy, deface, or alter a vehicle identification number for the purposes of misrepresentation of the vehicle or hiding its identity, and
- buy, sell, transfer, or possess a vehicle or vehicle part while knowing that the vehicle’s identification number has been removed, altered, or destroyed.ii
Note that sometimes a chop shop is owned by a criminal syndicate or street gang. Further, the offense can get charged along with other criminal acts, like:
- aggravated assault, per ARS 13-1204,
- armed robbery, per ARS 13-1904,
- criminal damage, per ARS 13-1602
- certain drug offenses (like possession of a dangerous drug, per ARS 13-3407),
- 2nd-degree murder, per ARS 13-1104,
- misconduct involving weapons,
- domestic violence, per ARS 13-3601,
- credit card theft, and
- sexual assault, per ARS 13-1406 or other charges related to sexual conduct/sexual exploitation.
People with knowledge of a chop shop can report alleged violations of this criminal code section to Arizona’s Department of Public Safety.
2. Are there defenses to charges brought under ARS 13-4702?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges in these types of criminal cases. Three common ones include showing that:
- a defendant did not operate a “chop shop.”
- an accused did not know that a car or car parts were stolen.
- law enforcement agencies conducted un unlawful search or seizure.
2.1 No chop shop
People are only guilty under this statute if they own a “chop shop,” or commit some other prohibited act in relation to one. In addition, Arizona law defines a chop shop in a precise way. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not own a chop shop.
2.2 No knowledge
Recall that for a place to qualify as a chop shop, the owner must know that the vehicles at the location were obtained by means of theft or fraud. A defense, then, is for a defendant to show that he/she did not have this knowledge. For example, consider the situation where a person buys a car from a chop shop. The buyer is not guilty of a crime if he/she did not know that the car was stolen or obtained by some fraudulent act.
2.3 Unlawful search and seizure
A law enforcement officer/peace officer can only conduct a search or seizure with a valid search warrant. If no warrant, they must have a valid excuse for not having one.
Constitutional violations occur when police conduct a search and/or seizure without a warrant or a valid exception. If such a violation, a judge can exclude any evidence obtained from the illegal search/seizure. This can result in a charge getting reduced or even dismissed.
3. What are the penalties?
Arizona’s criminal justice system says that a violation of ARS 13-4702 is a felony offense.
Depending on the facts of the case, a prosecutor can charge the violation as either a:
- Class 2 felony, or
- Class 4 felony.iii
A Class 2 felony is punishable by a state prison term of 12 years and six months. If the crime gets classified as a “dangerous offense,” then it is punishable by 21 years in prison.
A Class 4 felony is punishable by three years and nine months in prison.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to operating a chop shop. These are:
- theft – ARS 13-1802,
- theft of means of transportation – ARS 13-1814, and
- unlawful use of means of transportation – ARS 13-1803.
4.1 Theft – ARS 13-1802
Under ARS 13-1802, theft is the crime where people knowingly use or take someone else’s property or services without lawful authority to do so.
As with owning a chop shop, people must satisfy a knowledge element to be guilty of this crime. In particular, they must act while knowing that they are stealing someone’s property.
4.2 Theft of means of transportation – ARS 13-1814
Per ARS 13-1814, theft of means of transportation is a crime where people, under certain
circumstances, take a person’s vehicle without lawful authority.
Unlike with ARS 13-4702, a violation of this law is a Class 3 felony.
4.3 Unlawful use of means of transportation – ARS 13-1803
Per ARS 13-1803, unlawful use of means of transportation is a crime where people, without
permission, temporarily take another person’s motor vehicle.
Note that when most people steal a car to bring it to a chop shop, they do so with the intent to
permanently take the vehicle (as opposed to temporarily take it). This means that people are not
often charged with both:
- owning a chop shop, per ARS 13-4702, and
- unlawful use of means of transportation, per ARS 13-1803.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our legal team provides both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-4702 Subsection A1.
- A.R.S. 13-4702A2-5.
- ARS 13-4702C.