Introduction to Theft in Arizona
Whether leaving a store without paying for a candy bar or “borrowing” your neighbor’s car without his or her permission, a theft conviction can result in serious sanctions and collateral consequences. As a result, you should take any theft charge seriously and deal with the matter aggressively. Before accepting the prosecutor’s plea offer or entering into a diversion/deferred prosecution agreement, though, consider your options. If the prosecution does not have the evidence necessary to prove its case against you, pleading to a charge of theft or entering into a diversion agreement may not be the wisest move. Click her for the Arizona statute on theft.
Elements of Theft
You have been charged with theft. One of the first things you should do is review the evidence the prosecution has against you (the prosecution is obligated to provide you – or your attorney, if you choose to be represented) with the evidence it has against you that it believes supports the charge. While there are are many ways in which a theft can be committed, these different methods all have similar elements, namely:
- The defendant acted without lawful authority. This requires proof that the owner of the property did not give you permission to take or use his or her property in the manner that you did. Consent does not need to be explicit, however. In other words, the owner of the property does not need to have stated (either verbally in writing), “Yes, you can use [insert item] for [insert purpose].” If your neighbor has a minivan that he or she has routinely allowed you to borrow in the past for your family’s vacations or camping excursions, this “pattern of behavior” can substitute for explicit consent.
- The defendant controlled the property or converted the property to an unauthorized use. The evidence must next show that the property in question was either under your direct control or that you had actually used the property in a manner that the owner had not authorized. For instance, if your neighbor says you can borrow his hose to wash your car, you cannot then use his hose to wash every car in the neighborhood. However, you may have a valid defense to theft if you can show you did not have control of the person’s property. A Frisbee or baseball that is thrown from your neighbor’s yard into yours does not automatically mean you have committed theft just because the ball or Frisbee is on your property.
- The defendant’s intent was to deprive the owner of the ability to control the property or interfere with his or her ability to do with his or her property as he or she pleases. Intent can always be a difficult element to prove, but the prosecution (and judges and juries) are permitted to infer intent from the circumstances of the case. For example, taking your neighbor’s car in the middle of the night can lead to an inference that you intended to permanently deprive her of her car. Conversely, walking into your neighbor’s garage during the daylight hours while she is washing her car and taking a cloth to wash your own may not be enough to suggest you intended to deprive her of the cloth’s use.
The penalties you face for a particular act of theft will depend primarily on the value of the item taken. A theft conviction can be handled as either a misdemeanor or a felony (again, based on the value of the item taken). Theft convictions can also make it more difficult for you to obtain certain jobs, especially in the financial sector. Lastly, theft convictions of any amount can be used to suggest you are dishonest or untruthful if you are called to testify as a witness in any other case. Because of this, you should aggressively defend yourself if you are charged with theft of any amount. For more information contact an experienced Arizona criminal attorney for more information.