I regularly hear from people who are surprised and incredulous regarding the number and variety of criminal traffic violations in Arizona. Many of my clients live outside Arizona and have unwittingly been ensnared in Arizona’s unusually harsh traffic laws while here on brief visits.
I often speak with Arizona visitors who are justifiably outraged about how a violation that is considered 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. A victimless crime is a violation of a criminal statute, yet nobody was injured, no property damaged, and any potential risk to anyone or anything is usually purely speculative. Nobody’s rights have been violated – there simply is no victim.
A serious argument may be made that this victimless conduct has been criminalized in Arizona merely to extract money from well-meaning, decent people. For example, if one is driving down the I-17 toward Phoenix after a visit to the Grand Canyon, there will be many stretches posted at the maximum 75 mph speed limit. Many drivers will coast downhill, few other cars around, exercising perfect vehicle control, only to notice that they inadvertently exceeded 85 mph. If this should happen in sight of a state-appointed revenue generator, otherwise known as a DPS trooper, that driver could be charged with a violation of the excessive speed statute, A.R.S. § 28-701.02, also known as criminal speed. There is no victim, but a mere arbitrary line – 85 mph is not a crime but 86 mph is a crime with a potential for jail time.
Consider another example: It is a crime to drive certain vehicles in Arizona if the registration has expired and the vehicle owner is not an Arizona resident. According to A.R.S. § 28-2322, this is a class 2 misdemeanor, the same as assault! In other words, driving a friend’s vehicle with their permission, when the friend is not an Arizona resident, but the registration has expired, could risk up to four months in jail – even if the registration lapse was inadvertent and nobody (but the police) noticed.
The list of criminal violations one may commit while driving is extensive, but the most common criminal traffic violations I 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. One could be charged with reckless driving for something as simple as speeding, with a passenger in the car. One could be charged with exhibition of speed, if the car’s tires ‘chirp’ on wet pavement or when making a turn. There are more examples, and there are many more criminal traffic violations for commercial drivers.
I disagree with many of Arizona’s exceptionally punitive traffic laws, especially those that criminalize victimless conduct, and I wish they did not exist. Fortunately, I have a good track record protecting my clients’ rights, and I regularly achieve non-criminal resolutions for many of these case types.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.