What is Criminal Littering in Arizona?

A.R.S. § 13-1603 defines the crime of criminal littering or polluting. Many people are not aware that littering, even a small amount, is actually a crime in Arizona. If the littering occurs on the highway, it can be charged as a class 1 misdemeanor–the same level of crime as a DUI. People often see others toss cigarette butts out of a car window while on the freeway, but in Arizona this may result in the driver may be ticketed and charged with a crime.

Criminal littering can be charged as a class 6 felony, a class 1 misdemeanor, or a class 2 misdemeanor depending on where the littering occurs and the amount of trash that is thrown out.

A.R.S. § 13-1603 Defined

Under ARS 13-1603, a person commits criminal littering or polluting if the person without lawful authority does any of the following:

  • (1) Throws, places, drops or permits to be dropped on public property or property of another that is not a lawful dump any litter, destructive or injurious material that the person does not immediately remove.
  • (2) Discharges or permits to be discharged any sewage, oil products or other harmful substances into any waters or onto any shorelines within this state.
  • (3) Dumps any earth, soil, stones, ores or minerals on any land.

A violation of ARS 13-1603 is a class 6 felony in the following circumstances:

  • The litter weighs more than three hundred pounds or is one hundred cubic feet in volume
  • The littering is done for a commercial purpose.

Criminal littering is a class 1 misdemeanor in either of the following circumstances:

  • The litter weighs more than one hundred pounds but less than three hundred pounds or more than 35 cubic feet but less than 100 cubic feet.
  • The litter is placed on or within fifty feet of a highway, beach or shoreline of any body of water used by the public

In all other circumstances, criminal littering is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Important Definitions for Criminal Littering

The criminal littering statute contains certain legal terms that are specifically defined elsewhere in the Arizona criminal code. Specifically, ARS 13-1601 offers important legal definitions that courts use when reading the criminal littering statute and are defined as follows:

  • “Litter”: Any rubbish, refuse, waste material, offal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, organic or inorganic trash, debris, filthy or odoriferous objects, dead animals or any foreign substance of whatever kind or description, including junked or abandoned vehicles, whether or not any of these items are of value.
  • “Property of another:” Property in which any person other than the defendant has an interest, including community property and other property in which the defendant also has an interest and, for damage caused by theft of scrap metal, the property of other persons damaged directly or indirectly as a result of the acts of the defendant.

These statutes are written very broadly, and can have some rather absurd results.

Notably, “property of another” includes community property. In Arizona, community property is property that is owned by a marital community (i.e., husband and wife), and can include such things as the marital home. Therefore, it could technically be a violation of the criminal littering law if a husband drops a soda can in the backyard of the marital home and the wife reports it.

What are the chances that a person would be charged for criminal littering under these circumstances? Very slim given how ridiculous that application of the law would be. But the letter of the law as written does not seem to preclude such an absurd result.

Penalties for Criminal Littering

The penalties for a conviction under ARS 13-1603 depend on whether it is charged as a class 6 felony, class 1 misdemeanor, or class 2 misdemeanor.

Penalties for a class 6 felony

  • With no prior felonies: probation or .33 to 2 years in prison
  • With one prior felony: .75 to 2.75 years in prison
  • With two prior felonies: 2.25 to 5.75 years in prison

Penalties for a class 1 misdemeanor

  • Up to 6 months’ jail
  • Up to $2500 in fines
  • Probation

Penalties for a class 2 misdemeanor

  • Up to 4 months’ jail
  • Up to $750 in fines
  • Probation

Defenses to Criminal Littering

  • Accident: Criminal littering requires the State to show that defendant “throws, places, drops, or permits to be dropped” trash on property. All of these actions appear to require some amount of intent, and if the litter is dropped the defendant must at least “permit” the trash to be dropped. Therefore, if it can be shown that the littering was accidental and not permitted by the defendant, that should negate a charge of criminal littering.

Example: A person is driving down the freeway eating a hamburger out of a fast-food wrapper. The driver opens the window to let in some fresh air, and the paper wrapper slips from his hand and flies out the window. The police may pull the driver over and assume that the driver tossed the trash out the window; however, if a judge can be convinced that this was entirely accidental then it can be argued the driver did not “permit the litter to be dropped” and he is not guilty of criminal littering.

How Salwin Law Group Can Help You

If you have been charged with criminal littering, an experienced defense attorney can help defend you. We offer free consultation and can discuss your case with you today. Together we can help you get your life back.

Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 470-6119, or contact us online to make your appointment.