People are often surprised to learn of the variety of criminal traffic violations that exist in Arizona. Many of our clients are people who live outside of Arizona and have unwittingly been ensnared in Arizona’s unusually harsh traffic laws while here on vacation. People we speak with regularly comment how a violation that is treated as a criminal offense in Arizona might simply be resolved with a $50 fine in their home state. Part of what makes these criminal traffic violations in Arizona so aggravating is that they are what we refer to as victimless crimes. When you commit a victimless crime, you have not injured anyone and you have not violated anyone’s rights; there simply is no victim.
Many of the victimless activities that have been criminalized in Arizona appear to exist only to extract money from well-meaning people. For example, if you are driving down the I-17 on your way to Phoenix after having visited the Grand Canyon, you will encounter many stretches of I-17 with a 75 mph speed limit. How many of you have been coasting down a hill on the I-17 with no other cars around and in perfect control of your vehicle, only to notice that you inadvertently hit 86 mph? If you happen to do this in front of a state-appointed revenue generator, otherwise known as a DPS officer, you could be charged with criminal speed. Where is the victim? What makes 85 mph not a crime, and 86 mph a crime that carries potential jail time?
Consider another example: Did you know it is a crime to drive a vehicle in Arizona if the registration is expired and that vehicle belongs to someone who is not a resident of Arizona? According to A.R.S. § 28-2322, this is a class 2 misdemeanor, the same as assault! In other words, if you borrowed a friend’s vehicle, and your friend was not a resident of Arizona, and unbeknownst to you the registration was expired, you could be facing up to four months in jail if the police catch you.
The list of criminal violations you can commit while driving is extensive, but the most common criminal traffic violations we see are reckless driving, racing or exhibition of speed, driving on a suspended license, and criminal speed, none of which require any actual injury, or even the threat of injury, to person or property. You could be charged with reckless driving for something as simple as speeding if you are speeding with a passenger in the car. You could be charged with exhibition of speed if your tires chirp on wet pavement. The examples could go on, and this is not even touching on all of the criminal traffic violations that commercial motor vehicle drivers can face.
We do not agree with many of Arizona’s exceptionally punitive traffic laws, many of which criminalize victimless activities, and we wish they did not exist. Fortunately, we have a good history protecting our clients’ rights and obtaining non-criminal resolutions in these types of cases.