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Is Littering a Criminal Offence in Arizona?

Most of us have littered at one point in our lives and probably gotten away with it. But if you reside in Arizona, you may want to think twice before throwing that candy wrapping out your car window. In Arizona, littering is a serious offense that can attract severe consequences. You may find yourself charged with criminal littering in Arizona, in which case you may need the counsel of a criminal defense lawyer. Luckily, this post will discuss everything you need to know about littering in the state of Arizona.

What Constitutes Criminal Littering in Arizona?

According to Arizona legislation, you may be liable for criminal littering or polluting if you do any of the following without lawful authority:

Dump soil, earth, ores, minerals or stones on any land
Discharge or permit the discharge of oil products, sewage or other toxic substances into any shorelines or waters within the state
Drop, place, throw or permit hazardous material or litter to be dropped on private or public property that isn’t a lawful dump, and failure to remove such materials immediately.

Generally, criminal littering refers to the latter definition, while the first two relate to companies and businesses that produce large amounts of waste. The Maricopa Association of Governments attributes most cases of criminal littering to a lack of understanding of what exactly constitutes pollution and littering and failure to understand the potential consequences. However, you have a pretty good idea of what littering in Arizona constitutes with the above definitions.

Penalties for Littering in Arizona

Most cases of criminal littering and pollution in Arizona are charged as misdemeanors, but one may be charged with a felony in some cases. According to Arizona Revised Statutes Title 13, the following are potential punishments for littering:

You can be charged with a class 6 felony if the polluting material or litter is more than 100 cubic feet or 300 pounds
Littering within 50 feet of a shoreline or highway constitutes a class 1 misdemeanor
All other cases of criminal littering and pollution fall under a class 2 misdemeanor

It is crucial to note that the most severe penalty, a class 6 felony, doesn’t apply to the general population. Common littering cases such as throwing food wrappings out your car window or dropping a cigarette are charged as a class 1 misdemeanor if they occurred on a shore or highway; all other cases constitute a class 2 misdemeanor.

Difference Between Dumping and Littering

The state of Arizona differentiates littering and dumping based on the weight of the waste material and not the penalty involved. This is arguably sensible, seeing that highway littering costs the state about 6 times more than large-scale dumping. Therefore, legislators seem keener to correct drivers who carelessly litter highways from their windows than those who dump significant amounts of waste material in prohibited areas.

It is estimated that highway littering costs taxpayers in Arizona an average of three million dollars every year. Also, trash along highways and shores degrades the community and negatively impacts the local economy. The state is so keen on eradicating highway littering that it has recently implemented a hotline for that sole purpose, but it is not designed to punish offenders. When you call the hotline to report a littering driver, the program sends the driver in question a free litter bag instead of alerting law enforcement. The litter bag is accompanied by a written reminder to avoid littering.

Fines for Littering in Arizona

Depending on the circumstances, there are varying fines for littering, but they are relatively higher for highway littering. Generally, littering fines do not exceed $500 save for specific situations.

According to the Arizona Revised Statutes 28-1098, littering regarding vehicle loads need not be intentional. It starts by stipulating the proper way of transporting a load, requiring that the vehicle be constructed to prevent the load from leaking, sifting, dropping or escaping from it. The law then proceeds to determine penalties in violation cases.

For instance, if a law enforcement officer finds that the load on your vehicle is not secured correctly, even though the material hasn’t escaped, you may be liable for a penalty of up to $250; $350 if you commit the violation twice in 5 years. However, if some of the load escapes and injures another driver, you may be charged up to $500. The fine may escalate up to $1000 if the escaped material causes the death of another person.

While these fines may appear relatively low for causing the death of another individual, they are considered a fair assessment based on the driver’s intent. Despite this statute standing on the border of littering and manslaughter, it is punished as a criminal littering charge. At the same time, load seepage or an insecure load is more dangerous than stray food wrappings, unintentional. Since no one wants to lose their load in transit, such an occurrence is deemed accidental. Throwing trash out of your car window, on the other hand, is an apparent intentional act.

State law allows cities to set their fines and standards for littering. Scottsdale has a fine of $75 for littering citywide, whether on highways or otherwise. However, a 2012 provision doubled the fine for Downtown Scottsdale, otherwise known as the entertainment district. The provision was accompanied by installing trash cans and signs warning extra fees for littering.

Defenses for Littering

There are limited defenses for littering, mainly because the judge often assumes intent. For instance, if a law enforcement officer observed you throwing trash out of your car or dropping wrappings on the ground, it is difficult to prove it wasn’t intentional. However, it would help if you didn’t resign your fate to the court. Visit to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your case.

Lane, Hupp, & Crowley,
111 W Monroe St Ste. 1216 Phoenix AZ 85003,
(480) 562-3482

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If you have been charged with a DUI, drug charge, sex crime or any serious criminal offense, let an experienced defense team fight for you. Schedule a consultation with one of our partners today. Call (480) 562-3482 or send an email.