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Legislatures of most states consider "expired registration" violation to be "fix-it" tickets, where promptly renewing the registration after the issuance of the citation is grounds for complete withdrawal of the complaint, or, at most, a fine that is rather trivial in amount. E.g., California falls under this category.

In Arizona, however, the issue is covered by ARS 28-2532, which, as per the interpretation of the courts, may appear to impose a minimum civil penalty of 50 dollars, which, after accounting for the "Fund: Court Enhancement" and the other surcharges, results in a "reduced" fee of about 200 dollars, which is often higher than what the registration fee itself is, and doesn't look that "reduced" at all.

28-2532. Registration; violation; civil penalties

A. Except as provided in subsection B of this section, a person who is the resident or nonresident owner or operator of a motor vehicle, trailer or semitrailer that is required by law to be registered in this state and that is not registered or does not display license plates assigned by the department for the current registration year and who operates or knowingly permits the vehicle to be operated on a highway is subject to a civil penalty of three hundred dollars notwithstanding section 28-1598.

B. On proper presentation of evidence of current registration, a person who is charged with a violation of subsection A of this section is subject to a civil penalty of fifty dollars.

C. A court shall not dismiss an action brought under this section merely because the defendant has obtained the appropriate license plates or registration after violating this section. A court may decide not to impose a civil penalty against a defendant for a violation of this section if the defendant was an operator but was not the owner of the motor vehicle, trailer or semitrailer.

(Emphasis mine.) What does "merely" above mean? Every state has their own requirements, what if you visit Arizona from out-of-state, and receive a citation on your first day, and have a reasonable excuse and valid proof of having performed reasonable attempts at renewing the registration, only to be thwarted by the inadequacy of your own state — in California, for example, the DMV officially advises on their site to "allow 3 to 6 weeks to process" the documents that are sent via mail, and, likewise, the phone hold times on the order of an hour is business-as-usual.

As such, if the status of your registration is not the result of your own wilful ignorance, but more of an inaction of your out-of-state DMV when you yourself have been on the road through multiple states and away from your home state, and online renewal was not possible through no fault of your own, does the Arizona's "reduced" fine still apply, or does the "merely" allow for such an excuse to have the citation be dismissed in the similar circumstances as above?

This may especially be unfair when you try to combine the rules of multiple states — in California, the fines for expired registration are already higher than what such are in Arizona, hence, wouldn't paying both the late fees in California and the expired registration fees in Arizona amount to something akin double jeopardy?

(Arizona also offers car registrations that are valid for 5 years, whereas in California, you have to renew yearly, which, again, is further proof of the unfairness of imposing the penalty from one state when the benefits of such state were unavailable to the respondent.)

  • BTW, I tried looking into the Annotated statutes for this, but there were no editor notes — apparently, because these citations are handled by the court where the officer themselves acts as both the witness and the state/prosecutor. – cnst Feb 27 '18 at 19:24
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what if you visit Arizona from out-of-state, and receive a citation on your first day

Note the wording:

Except as provided in subsection B of this section, a person who is the resident or nonresident owner or operator of a motor vehicle, trailer or semitrailer that is required by law to be registered in this state

If you are just visiting from out of state, it would seem that you wouldn't be required to register in Arizona, unless there's something else going on (for example, if you're doing something covered in 28-2321 like transporting passengers for hire.)

But it would seem that you would be violating 28-2322:

A person shall not operate a foreign vehicle owned by a nonresident on a highway and a nonresident owner shall not knowingly permit the foreign vehicle to be operated on a highway unless there is displayed on the vehicle the license plates assigned to the vehicle for the current registration year by the state or country of which the owner is a resident.

This requires you to be properly registered in California, if you're a California resident.

wouldn't paying both the late fees in California and the expired registration fees in Arizona amount to something akin double jeopardy?

I don't think so. One is for registering your car late, and the other is for driving in Arizona without proper registration. These are two different offenses, even if they are somewhat related.

As far as your question on "merely", I would interpret that as meaning they can't dismiss the charge for that listed reason alone, but could dismiss it for other reasons. Whether the court will actually dismiss based on those other reasons is another matter entirely.

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