Updated: February 12, 2021

What is Criminal Damage in Arizona?

Arizona’s criminal damage law, ARS 13-1602, states that criminal damage occurs when a person recklessly defaces, damages, or tampers with the property of another. Placing graffiti on a building without the owner’s permission is also covered under this law. Criminal damage can be either a felony or a misdemeanor offense, and the severity of the crime will largely depend on the value of the property that was damaged.

A.R.S. § 13-1602 Defined

ARS 13-1602 is the Arizona law that defines criminal damage.

This law states, “A person commits criminal damage by:

  • (1) Recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person.
  • (2) Recklessly tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value.
  • (3) Recklessly damaging property of a utility.
  • (4) Recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water.
  • (5) Recklessly drawing or inscribing a message, slogan or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.
  • (6) Intentionally tampering with utility property.

Subsections 1 and 2 are the most common types of criminal damages charges. These will appear on a criminal citation as a violation of ARS 13-1602(a)(1) or ARS 13-1602(a)(2). The other types of criminal damage sections listed in the statute are rarer. The police seldom have issues, for example, with people parking their trucks between cows and rivers.

Damage to property, however, is a very common charge that you can see arising out of city and county courts. The severity of these types of charges depends on the value of the property damaged.

Definitions for Important “Criminal Damage” Terms

In order to understand the criminal damage statute, there are some other definitions that you need to understand.

  • “Reckless”: Recklessness is a state of mind. Each crime is Arizona requires the defendant possess a certain state of mind when the act was committed: either intentional, knowing, or reckless. To prove “recklessness” the state does not need to show that the person intended to commit the criminal damage. Even if the damage was accidental, criminal damage may still have occurred. To prove “recklessness” the state must show that a person “is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. . . . The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of such risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” A.R.S. 13-105.

Example: A person tosses a large rock blindly onto the SR-51 freeway. The person may not intend to hit a car, but in tossing the rock they have engaged in reckless behavior because there is a substantial risk that it will hit a car, and tossing a rock onto a highway is a “gross deviation” from normally acceptable behavior.

  • “Deface”: This means any unnecessary act of substantially marring any surface or place, by any means, or any act of putting up, affixing, fastening, printing or painting any notice on any structure, without permission from the owner. A.R.S. 13-1601
  • “Property of Another”: This is 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. Why is this important? It means that in Arizona and other community property states, a married couple may have a joint interest in certain property.

Example: A cell phone that is used by a wife may technically be community property that both a husband and a wife have an interest in. Nonetheless, if the husband damages the wife’s cell phone, he may still be charged with criminal damage even though, by virtue of community property laws, he had a property interest in the cell phone.

  • “Utility”: Any enterprise, public or private, that provides gas, electric, irrigation, steam, water, water conservation, sewer or communications services, as well as any common carrier on land, rail, sea or air.

Example: Property owned by the Salt River Project (SRP) or Arizona Public Service Electric (APS).

Penalties for Criminal Damage

Depending on how much it costs to replace the damaged property, criminal damage can be anything from a class 2 misdemeanor to a class 4 felony.

  • Class 4 felony criminal damage: The value of the property is $10,000 or more. Or the person damages a utility and the damage is over $5,000 or the damage causes an imminent safety hazard.

Potential Prison Term: 1 to 3.75 years

  • Class 5 felony criminal damage: The value of the property is between $2,000 and $10,000. Or the damage was done to promote a criminal street gang.

Potential Prison Term: 6 months to 2.5 years

  • Class 6 felony criminal damage: The value of the property is between $1000 and $2000.

Potential Prison Term: 3 months to 2 years

  • Class 1 misdemeanor criminal damage: The value of the property is between $250 and $1000.

Potential Jail Time: Up to 6 months

  • Class 2 misdemeanor criminal damage: The value of the property is $250 or less.

Potential Jail Time: Up to 4 months

How is the Value of Property Determined in a Criminal Damage Case?

In determining the cost of the damage under this statute, the state will look to the following factors:

  • Reasonable labor costs.
  • Reasonable material costs.
  • Any other reasonable repair costs.

Defenses to Criminal Damage

  • No “recklessness”: Criminal damage requires the state to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted “recklessly” in damaging property. However, in order to do so the prosecution must prove that the defendant disregarded a substantial risk that damage would occur and that the risk was also unjustifiable. There could be numerous circumstances where damage to the property of another occurs which is simply an accident and the defendant’s behavior was not particularly risky. Even if a defendant is taking normal precautions in his actions, accidents can happen, and the fact damage occurred is not enough to prove a criminal damage case. We can investigate the entire circumstances surrounding criminal damages charges to present evidence that tends to show that this is the case and the defendant’s behavior was reasonable.
  • Property is Overvalued: The cost of the damage in a criminal damage case can make a big difference. Just one dollar more of damage can increase the severity of the charges from a misdemeanor to a felony, and it can increase the potential prison term by years. Often the police will submit estimates for the total damage based on their estimates without proof of the actual value of item damaged. Even if there is additional evidence the state provides of value, we may be able to present alternative evidence showing that the value of the property is actual less and the charges should be reduced. Remember: it is not the job of the defendant to prove the value of the damage beyond a reasonable doubt; this is the job of the government. A strong defense can plant the seeds of doubt in the mind of the judge or the jury to question the state’s estimate of value, and that alone can be enough to result in a not-guilty verdict for the charged crime.

How Salwin Law Can Help You

If you’ve been charged with criminal damage as either a felony or a misdemeanor, a skilled criminal defense attorney can provide you with a solid defense. Salwin Law offers a free consultation on property crime cases, and together we can help you figure out ways to minimize the effect these charges will have on your life.

Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 702-1789, or contact us online to make your appointment.