What is Vandalism?

Vandalism is the offense of maliciously defacing another’s real or personal property. This includes damaging the property by graffiti or other form of inscription as well as destruction or alteration of property.

Vandalism is the offense of destroying or damaging the property of another. In many instances vandalism is charged when graffiti is spray painted on walls. Other types of property that may be affected include:

  • Buildings
  • Vehicles
  • Signs
  • Fixtures and structures
  • Furnishings
  • Public property, whether state or federal

Examples of Vandalism:

Vandalism varies according to state and local laws. Commonly, vandalism involves defacing a building with spray paint, which is usually referred to as graffiti. Other forms of vandalism include:

  • Breaking fences
  • Smashing mailboxes
  • Breaking windows
  • Damaging the locks and doors on buildings
  • Keying cars
  • Puncturing tires on cars and bicycles
  • Damaging property in and around schools and schoolyards

The actions must be deliberate and intentional

Must Be Malicious to be Vandalism:

The defendant must maliciously damage the property of another for vandalism to be charged. Therefore, the actions must be deliberate and intentional, as opposed to accidental and unintentional. If property is unintentionally destroyed there is no malice involved.

Vandalism May be Charged as a Misdemeanor, Felony or Infraction:

Depending on the state, city and local laws, the offense of vandalism may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and in some jurisdictions, as an infraction. The court will look at the variables in the case, including the amount of damage, the background of the defendant, and whether this is the defendant’s first charge of vandalism.

California Penalties for Vandalism

If the value of the destruction is $400 or more, first offense:

  • Jail: up to one year, and/or:
  • Fine: up to $10,000  if the damage was under $10,000, or
  • Fine: up $50,000 if the damage was $10,000 or more

If the value of the destruction is less than $400, first offense:

  • Jail: up to one year, and/or,
  • Fine: up to $1,000

Additionally, the court may order the defendant to personally repair, clean up, restore or replace the property. The defendant may be ordered to participate in classes, community service and to otherwise engage in monitored activities.

Other State laws and Consequences

Institutional Vandalism - Missouri:

Some states, such as Missouri, have institutional vandalism laws that protect various kinds of property:

  • Church, synagogue or religious place of worship
  • Cemetery, mortuary, military facility used for burial
  • Any school, educational facility, hospital operated by a religious group
  • Any motor vehicle owned by a school district or private school
  • Other property associated with religious groups, schools and educational institutions

Vandalism – Other Consequences:

While vandalism may seem like a fairly benign activity to the offender, the owner of destroyed or damaged property certainly believes otherwise. When a defendant destroys or defaces the property of another, the property owner has the right to report this conduct and to obtain restitution for damages. A charge for vandalism may result in life-altering repercussions:

  • If the offender has a career, a conviction can curtail professional advancement at work
  • If the offender has a professional license it may be temporarily suspended
  • A conviction can result in career limitations – for example, an individual may be prevented from entering the field of security services
  • A vandalism conviction can result in losing a scholarship or grant, prevent a loan from being granted, or curtail other educational benefits
  • A felony conviction will leave a permanent mark on the defendant’s criminal record

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Michael S. Berg
Attorney At Law