ARS § 13-1814 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of theft of means of transportation. People commit this offense if, under certain circumstances, they take a person’s vehicle without lawful authority. A violation of this law is a Class 3 felony punishable by up to almost nine years in state prison.
The language of ARS 13-1814 sets forth several ways a person can commit this offense. Some include by:
- controlling a person’s vehicle with the intent to take it from the owner permanently, and
- obtaining a person’s vehicle by means of fraud and doing so with the intent to take it permanently.
- borrowing a neighbor’s car with the intent to keep it forever.
- using fraud to gain access to someone’s motor vehicle and then stealing the vehicle.
- using a person’s vehicle while knowing that it is stolen.
Criminal defense lawyers can use a legal defense strategy to help a client challenge an auto theft charge. Some common defenses include an attorney showing that:
- the “victim” did not properly report the theft case,
- the “victim” consented to the defendant taking the car, and/or
- the accused acted out of necessity.
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 “theft of means of transportation”?
A person commits vehicle theft or car theft under this criminal code section if, without lawful authority, the person knowingly does one of the following:
- controls another person’s means of transportation, or vehicle, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of it,
- uses a person’s vehicle after the owner gave it to the defendant for a limited time or under certain restrictions (for example, joyriding),
- obtains someone’s vehicle by means of any material misrepresentation with the intent to permanently deprive the person of it,
- comes into control of another person’s lost vehicle and fails to take reasonable efforts to notify the true owner of the vehicle,i and
- takes control of another person’s vehicle knowing or having reason to know that the property is a stolen vehicle.ii
Per ARS 13-1801A9, the term “means of transportation” means any vehicle.
2. Are there defenses to theft charges brought under ARS 13-1814?
The criminal justice system says that defendants have the right to challenge a charge in a criminal case with a legal defense/disclaimer. Three common defenses in these theft cases are accused people showing that:
- the “victim” did not report the theft correctly.
- the “victim” consented to the taking of his/her vehicle.
- they acted out of necessity.
2.1 Improper reporting
ARS 13-1814C sets forth several requirements for law enforcement officers and theft victims when reporting this offense. For example, in most cases, the person who alleges that someone took their car must sign an affidavit provided by the police. An accused may be able to get a car theft charge dropped if these reporting requirements are not followed.
Recall that people are only guilty under these theft laws if they act without lawful authority. A defense is for an accused to show that he had authority to take a car because the owner consented, or agreed to, the taking.
People often raise this defense if a vehicle owner at first agrees to lend their car to someone, but then the owner reports the car stolen out of vengeance. This situation sometimes takes place with boyfriends/girlfriends and roommates.
Under a necessity defense, defendants try to prove their innocence by showing they had a good reason to commit a crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of the unlawful taking of a car, an accused can try to show that he/she committed the crime because of an emergency.
3. What are the defenses?
Violations of ARS 13-1814 result in felony charges. In particular, defendants are charged with a Class 3 felony.iii
First offense felony convictions under the law are punishable by a maximum state prison term of eight years and nine months.
This punishment will increase if a defendant has a prior felony offense.
Note also that if a defendant’s theft crime is classified as a “dangerous offense,” the person could face up to 15 years in prison.
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three crimes related to theft of means of transportation. These are:
- theft – ARS 13-1802,
- operating a chop shop – ARS 13-4702, 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 ARS 13-1814, people can challenge a charge under this statute by showing they had a person’s consent to take the property in question.
4.2 Operating a chop shop – ARS 13-4702
Per ARS 13-4702, operating a chop shop is the crime where a person runs a shop that alters, disassembles, or reassembles any vehicles that the person knows were taken by theft or fraud.
If the owner of a chop shop is the person who actually took a car within the shop, then he/she could be charged with both:
- operating a chop shop, and
- theft of means of transportation.
4.3 Unlawful use of means of transportation – ARS 13-1803
Per ARS 13-1803, unlawful use of means of transportation is the crime where a person, without authority, takes a person’s car but does so without the intent to take it forever.
While this statute involves the temporary taking of a vehicle, ARS 13-1814 punishes the taking of a car when the defendant commits the taking with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it.