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Arizona Auto Theft Laws

Auto theft is a serious issue in Arizona. The state regularly ranks in the top 10 states in the nation for total vehicles stolen. So it should come as no surprise that Arizona has very strict laws punishing people who take vehicles without consent.

The crime of auto theft is known as theft of means of transportation under Arizona law. It criminalizes most actions involved with taking a person's means of transportation without their permission. In fact, you can be convicted of auto theft if you use a vehicle rightfully in your possession in an unauthorized manner.

Overview of Arizona Drug Trafficking Laws

Below, you will find key provisions of Arizona’s Auto Theft Law.

Arizona Statutes

Statutory Definitions

  • Means of Transportation: any vehicle
  • Control: Act so as to exclude others from using their property except on the defendant's own terms.
  • Deprive: Withhold the property interest of another either permanently or for a period where a substantial portion of its economic value or usefulness or enjoyment is lost, to withhold with the intent to restore it only on payment of any reward or other compensation, or to transfer or dispose of it so that it is unlikely to be recovered.

Penalties and Sentences

  • First Offense
    • Class 3 felony
    • Sentencing Range: probation with no jail to 1 year in jail
    • If Aggravated Circumstances: 2 to 8.75 years in prison
  • Second Offense
    • Class 3 felony
    • Sentencing Range: 3.5 years to 16.25 years in prison
  • Third Offense
    • Class 3 Felony
    • Sentencing Range: 7.5 to 25 years in prison


  • Consent
  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Improper Reporting to Police
  • Mistake of Fact

Note: State laws are always subject to change. It’s important to verify the laws you’re researching by conducting your own research or consulting with a qualified Arizona criminal defense attorney.

Theft of Means of Transportation

The crime of theft of means of transportation requires proof that the defendant, without

lawful authority,knowingly:

  • Controlled another person’s means of transportation with the intent to permanently deprive the person of possession.
  • Took a vehicle placed in the defendant’s possession for a limited use, and used it in an unauthorized manner or at an unauthorized time.
  • Obtained another person’s means of transportation by misrepresenting facts, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of possession.
  • Using or possessing another person’s means of transportation that was lost or mis-delivered, that under circumstances, you should have made inquiry into the true owner and made reasonable efforts to notify them.
  • Using another person’s means of transportation when you knew or should have known that the property was stolen.

Arizona has specific reporting procedures for vehicle theft crimes. It requires the person reporting the theft of means of transportation to produce an affidavit or sworn document attesting to the facts of the alleged crime. If the affidavit is not taken in person by a law enforcement officer, the reporting person must mail or deliver a signed and notarized affidavit to the appropriate local law enforcement agency within 7 days after reporting the theft. If this document is not received within 30 days after the initial report, the vehicle information will be removed from the databases of the national crime information center and the Arizona criminal justice information system.

Theft by Not Returning a Vehicle in Default

In Arizona, you can be convicted of a type of auto theft if you fail to return a car that you are leasing or making payments on. The crime is known as Unlawful Failure to Return a Motor Vehicle Subject to a Security Interest. The law gives the lien holder the right to report the vehicle stolen if you fail to return it 90 days after you’ve defaulted on payments and proper demand notices were received. This crime is a class 6 felony that comes with potential jail sentence.

A big problem with the law is that Police can’t identify the difference between a stolen vehicle and a delinquent one by the way the vehicle is reported. So if you keep your car past the 90 day default period, you can expect normal police procedures will be taken to recover the vehicle, including the drawing of guns, backup officers and, in some cases, helicopters.

Penalties for Auto Theft in Arizona

Auto theft is a class 3 felony in Arizona and carries a minimum prison sentence of 2.5 years, up to a maximum of 10 years. If there are “aggravated circumstances” to the crime, such as a carjacking where the driver or their passengers were threatened during the crime, the sentence can be as much as 12.5 years of incarceration.

Research the Law

If you have additional questions about drug trafficking charges and Arizona laws, review the following links:

Related Resources

Get the Best Possible Defense for Your Auto Theft Case

If you're convicted of auto theft, you will likely be going to prison even on a first offense. Arizona takes auto theft very seriously and sets a minimum prison term for all guilty verdicts. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this alone. If you’re charged with auto theft, it's in your best interests to speak with an Arizona criminal defense attorney to learn more about how the law can work for you.

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