The state of Arizona prosecutes felony theft charges very harshly. Though there are varying degrees of theft in Arizona, felony theft is the most serious. Within this category, there are multiple classes of felony theft charges. Understanding the difference between felony classes as well as the difference between a misdemeanor and felony theft can help you understand your own case, and is important to your defense.

Belen Olmedo Guerra is a top criminal defense attorney serving the Phoenix area. In this post, Belen and her team will explain the difference between misdemeanor and felony theft, and the associated consequences. 

What is Theft?

Under Arizona state law, theft occurs any time a person knowingly:

  • Uses someone else’s property or services for any unauthorized period of time 
  • Commits fraud as a means of obtaining another person’s property or services 
  • Controls lost property without making a reasonable attempt to locate its owner
  • Controls someone else’s property with the intent of depriving that person of their property 
  • Obtains compensable goods or services without paying for them
  • Controls stolen property. 

So, what does any of that mean?

Essentially, theft has occurred any time you exercise control over an object with the intention to take it from its rightful place or owner. For instance, if you walk into someone’s garage and pick up their bike with the intention of taking it away, you have committed theft, even if the owner catches you before you make it out of the garage.

This is Arizona’s general theft statute. Arizona also recognizes theft by extortion, shoplifting, and theft of trade secrets. These are all much more specific forms of theft. 

Shoplifting, for instance, applies only to theft from a store or merchant. Apart from that distinction, the same rules apply to shoplifting in Arizona as general theft in Arizona. 

Misdemeanor vs Felony Theft 

The difference between a misdemeanor and felony theft in Arizona is the dollar value of the stolen item. The higher the dollar amount, the harsher the penalties. 

Arizona Revised Statute 13-1802 states that theft will become a felony offense when the dollar amount exceeds $1000. Anything below $1000 is a misdemeanor. 

There are exceptions to this rule. Any time the item in question is a firearm or an animal, it is a felony in Arizona. There are other extenuating circumstances that may elevate a misdemeanor theft charge to a felony theft charge, such as an assault during the theft.

Felony Theft Penalties

Theft of an item worth less than $1000 is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Arizona. This is the most serious class of misdemeanor Arizona can charge its citizens with. It can result in six months of jail time, $2500 in fines, and restitution to the victim.

For items with a value greater than $1000, you will be facing felony theft charges. The classes of Arizona felonies and their penalties are as follows.

Class 6 Felony Theft in Arizona

This is the lowest level of felony theft in Arizona. This is when the dollar amount of the item in question is between $1000 and $2000. Penalties for a Class 6 felony charge could include a minimum of four months to a maximum of two years of incarceration. Your fines could total up to $150,000. 

Class 5 Felony Theft in Arizona

For a court to charge a defendant with Class 5 felony theft, the item in question must be worth between $2000 and $3000. These felony theft charges carry a penalty of six months to 2.5 years in prison. Fines will not exceed $150,000. 

Class 4 Felony Theft in Arizona

This class of felony theft involves goods or services worth between $3000 and $4000. In addition, the theft of any vehicle engine or transmission (regardless of the actual dollar value) is automatically a Class 4 Felony

Penalties include one to 3.75 years of incarceration and fines of no more than $150,000. 

Class 3 Felony Theft

Theft is a Class 3 Felony when the property involved is worth anywhere between $4000 and $25000. Possible penalties include two to 8.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. 

Class 2 Felony Theft

This is the most serious class of felony theft in Arizona. The property in question will be worth $25,000 or more. If a court convicts you of class 2 felony theft, you could face three to 12.5 years of incarceration. You could also face a fine not to exceed $150,000.   

Legal Defenses to Theft

There are a few common legal defenses against theft. The most common are:

  • Specific intent. Theft requires that you intend to deprive the owner of their property. If the prosecution cannot prove that you had this intention, they cannot charge you with theft. 
  • A claim of right. If a person believes they have a right to the property even if that belief is mistaken or unreasonable, the belief is a defense to theft. 
  • Ownership. A defendant cannot be charged with felony theft if they actually owned the property in question.

There are also circumstances many people believe are a defense to theft but do not hold up in court. These circumstances are:

  • No Benefit from the property taken. It does not matter if you do not intend to use or benefit from the items in question. The intention to deprive another person of their property is the only necessary element to theft. 
  • Possession. Even if the person in possession of the item is not the proper owner, this is not a proper defense to theft. For example, if John is borrowing a bicycle from Mark and you take the bicycle from John, that is still theft. 
  • The intent to restore the property to its owner is not a defense. 

Contact the Belen Law Firm

Belen Olmedo Guerra is a determined advocate for all of her clients. If you or someone you love is facing felony theft charges in the Phoenix area, contact our experienced Phoenix criminal lawyers at the Belen Law Firm by calling 602-715-0908. You can also send us a message directly on our website to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.