Theft Crimes or larceny covers a host of criminal charges from petty theft to a high-level felony. How severe the punishment will depend on how serious the offense is and the value of the stolen property. If you have been charged with petty theft or auto theft in the state of Arizona, this article gives you information about what charges to expect, potential consequences, and your legal defenses.
What constitutes theft?
In Arizona, you can be charged with theft if you knowingly or willfully take someone else’s property or service without owner authorization, and if the intention is to deprive that individual of the stolen properties or services. It can be done through physical force, misrepresentation, deception, or taking control of the item without the true owner’s knowledge and consent.
Arizona adopts a classification system where the severity of the offense depends on the value of the stolen property (or property type in a few cases). State law divides such offenses into six offense levels starting from a class 1 misdemeanor and leading to a class 2 felony.
What theft crimes can you face?
This guide only covers petty theft and auto theft. If you’ve been charged with a different level of offense, you can get in touch with an Arizona criminal defense attorney to help you build your defense strategy.
Petty theft. Offenders charged with this crime are those who stole a property valued less than the state limit, which is usually a few hundred dollars. As the amount may vary between states, it is important to check the laws in your jurisdiction. One example of petty theft is shoplifting, where the merchandise is taken from a store.
Theft of Means of Transportation. A defendant charged with this crime is an unauthorized person who controlled another person’s means of transport to deprive him or her of that possession. It also applies to people who’ve been authorized by the vehicle owner but used the property in an unlawful manner or those who obtained it by misrepresenting information. Defendants cannot claim that the vehicle was just lost then found, or had been misdelivered, as both cases also constitute this crime according to the theft law.
Theft by Not Returning a Vehicle. In some cases, you may have failed to return an automobile to the rightful owner or the leasing company. The bad news is that Arizona lists this as a class 6 felony crime called the unlawful failure to return a vehicle protected by the security interest. If the plaintiff has a lien on the property, it gives him or her the legal right to sue you if you don’t return it within 90 days after defaulting on the loan.
Arizona employs a procedure for reporting vehicle theft crimes. Each reporting person submits an affidavit, taken by a law enforcement officer, or mailed to the law enforcement agency. The document attests to the facts of the alleged crime. Once filed, the information on the vehicle is maintained in the national crime information center database and criminal justice information system.
Prosecuting Theft Cases in Arizona
In any criminal case or theft case, the prosecuting attorney will try to prove the following elements on your theft case:
- Ownership. The alleged owner (considered victim of the crime) should have a possessory interest in the item. The rightful owner of the property should appear in court if he or she wants to prosecute the alleged thief. The victim of the crime must have a “possessory interest” in the item taken.
- Wrongful taking. The prosecution will evaluate if owner consent was willingly given or through deceitful means.
- Taken away. The item must have been moved from its original location to constitute theft.
- The intention of deprivation. Prosecuting attorneys will find evidence to prove if the accused took an item and intended to keep it.
Without sufficient evidence of these elements, the judge or jury cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, and you can be entitled to an acquittal.
Defenses to Theft
If, on the other hand, there is evidence proving the elements of theft, a criminal defense lawyer can help you find potential defense strategies to fight the charge. The defense will depend on your circumstances such as whether the property was taken if there was a belief that the offender owns the item allegedly taken, if he or she is entitled to the property, and if the stolen item had been eventually returned to the property owner.
Lawyering up when faced with a theft accusation can help you avoid grave consequences such as years of a prison sentence in the case of auto theft (class 3 felony) in Arizona, or longer incarceration when there are “aggravated circumstances” (such as in the case of carjacking).
Some other benefits of considering a criminal defense law firm are the following:
- Avoiding felony sentencing
- Avoid felony probation where the judge suspends the sentence based on your felony record and places the defendant on probation. Non-violation of the terms can lead to avoiding prison time or shorter jail time.
- Lowering the felony fines and restitution to be paid. The maximum fine of an Arizona felony can span six figures especially when the victim demands compensation for losses.
Get the Best Possible Defense for Your Auto Theft Case
Regardless of which classification of theft you are facing, even a petty theft can mar your criminal record and impact your future attempts in getting employed, buying a house, and applying for loans. To avoid these indirect consequences, plus the grave felony consequences, it’s best to consult a defense attorney before settling or signing a plea bargain. Criminal Defense attorneys from the Snader Law group will take your criminal charges personally and immediately put a defense strategy into action. Contact our Arizona criminal defense lawyer now to schedule your consultation.