ARS § 13-1803 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of unlawful use of means of transportation. People commit this offense when, without permission, they temporarily take another person’s motor vehicle. The offense is sometimes referred to as “joyriding.” A violation of this law is a Class 5 felony punishable by over two years in state prison.
The language of ARS § 13-1803 reads as follows:
A. A person commits unlawful use of means of transportation if, without intent permanently to deprive, the person either:
1. Knowingly takes unauthorized control over another person’s means of transportation.
2. Knowingly is transported or physically located in a vehicle that the person knows or has reason to know is in the unlawful possession of another person pursuant to paragraph 1 or section 13-1814.
B. A violation of subsection A, paragraph 1 of this section is a class 5 felony.
C. A violation of subsection A, paragraph 2 of this section is a class 6 felony.
- a parking lot attendant taking a car out for a spin without the owner’s permission.
- “borrowing” a friend’s car (without permission) while housesitting for the person.
- hotwiring a neighbor’s car to take a spouse to the hospital.
People facing a joyriding charge can contest it with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that they:
- had the owner’s permission to use a vehicle,
- had a claim of right over the vehicle, and/or
- were stopped or arrested without probable cause.
- custody in state prison for two years and six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $150,000.
In this article, our 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 “unlawful use of means of transportation”?
People in Arizona are guilty under this statute if they:
- knowingly take another person’s vehicle,
- do so without that person’s consent or authority, and
- take the car temporarily, or without an intent to take it permanently.i
Per ARS 13-1801A9, the term “means of transportation” means any vehicle.ii
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-1803
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to contest joyriding and auto theft/stolen vehicle charges. Three common ones include lawyers showing that accused people:
- had the owner’s authority.
- had a claim of right over the vehicle.
- were stopped or arrested without probable cause.
2.1 Owner’s authority
People are only guilty of the unlawful possession of a car if they take control of a person’s vehicle without that person’s authority or permission. Therefore, it is always a defense for defendants to show that a car owner consented to the defendant taking his/her car.
2.2 Claim of right
In the context of an ARS 13-1803 charge, a claim of right means that an accused rightfully owned the car that he/she drove or took. People cannot commit a joyriding offense if they have a claim of right to the vehicle involved (or otherwise owned it). This defense is often raised when it is unclear as to whose name a car’s title is under.
2.3 No probable cause
A law enforcement agency or law enforcement officer can only stop a driver if they have probable cause that the driver violated the law. This means people accused of unlawfully taking a car can assert that there was reasonable doubt as to whether police had probable cause to stop them.
Similarly, if the police do stop and arrest a driver, the police must read the driver his/her Miranda rights. Failures to do so are often considered Miranda rights violations that could lead to charges getting dropped.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of subsection A of ARS 13-1803 is considered a felony conviction, in particular a Class 5 felony conviction.iii
A first offense under the law is punishable by custody in state prison for up to two years and six months. A second offense of joyriding is punishable by a prison term of up to three years and nine months.
If the crime gets classified as a dangerous offense, a defendant faces a prison term of up to four years.
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three related offenses to the unlawful use of means of transportation. These are:
- theft of means of transportation – ARS 13-1814,
- operating a chop shop – ARS 13-4702, and
- embezzlement – ARS 13-1802A2.
4.1 Theft of means of transportation – ARS 13-1814
Per ARS 13-1814, theft of means of transportation is the crime where people:
- take a person’s vehicle without lawful authority, and
- do so with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently.
Note the distinction between this offense and joyriding. A violation of ARS 13-1803 only requires that a person intend to take a car temporarily. A violation of ARS 13-1814, however, requires that a person intend to take a car permanently.
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 or works on cars, and
- the person knows that the cars worked on were taken by theft or fraud.
If the owner of a chop shop is the person who actually took a car, then he/she could be charged with both:
- operating a chop shop, and
- theft of means of transportation or the unlawful use of means of transportation.
4.3 Embezzlement – ARS 13-1802A2
Under ARS 13-1802A2, embezzlement is when:
- someone entrusts a person with certain property, and
- the person converts the property to his/her own for an unauthorized term or use.
An example of embezzlement is when a financial advisor takes a client’s money and deposits into his/her own account.
Depending on the value of the property taken, embezzlement can lead to more serious charges than a charge of joyriding. For example, if a person embezzles $25,000 or more, he/she can face a Class 2 felony charge punishable by up to 12 plus years in state prison.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1803.
- A.R.S. 13-1801A9.
- ARS 13-1803B.