Vandalism is an act of maliciously destroying, defacing, or damaging another person’s property. The rights of corporations and people extend to their property and are not only limited to their physical bodies. If you destroy, damage, or deface government or another person’s property, you face vandalism charges. In Orange County, vandalism is a common criminal offense that results in harsh penalties. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have experienced criminal defense lawyers to discuss vandalism consequences and defense options available if charged.
What Constitutes Vandalism?
Penal Code 594 PC is the statute that defines vandalism. The crime extends to various acts such as the signing of symbols or graffiti and names illegally on public property, damaging property during a domestic fight at home where the property is jointly owned, and defacing public buildings or someone else's home or car. Vandalism also includes slashing tires, egging another person’s home or car, keying someone else's car, throwing stones at another person’s window, and spraying the side of a building that doesn’t belong to you.
Most people consider vandalism as a kid’s or even teenagers’ play, for example, by egging cars, knocking down mailboxes, and tagging walls that belong to other people. Older teenagers are easily charged with vandalism and sentenced to state prison as adults. Vandalism has severe charges and not merely how you can treat it unknowingly. The consequence of a vandalism charge is reduced ability to obtain financial aid, employment, voting rights, government benefits, immigration status, and prison or jail sentence.
You would assume that a harmless prank can end up being a severe vandalism crime charged against you. You think it's Halloween, and you decide to egg your friend’s car. What you do taking it as a joke might end up not being the case.
Real property is land and anything attached to it, such as a home or building. Personal property is anything else found within your house or building, such as your car. You are charged with criminal vandalism for destroying, damaging, or defacing the government’s or another person’s property.
In simple words, in Orange County, you are charged with vandalism for smashing property on a heated argument with your spouse. The law does not necessarily need the damage done to be permanent. Drawing something small with a mark on another person's property could amount to vandalism even though the ink is easily removed. Writing your name on a sidewalk on wet cement or graffiti art on someone else's building could be vandalism.
A common vandalism image that most think of is spraying graffiti on another person's building. The victim could be found in possession of tools that could have caused the vandalism. There is vandalizing using noxious or caustic chemicals, vandalism to synagogues or churches, vandalizing government facilities or vehicles, and vandalizing near or on highways and freeways.
Elements of Vandalism
The prosecutor must prove all the necessary crime elements were present for the charge to be taken as vandalism. Each of the elements must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. The elements include:
- That the act of damaging, destroying, or defacing the property was malicious.
- That the property was co-owned or was not yours.
- The property’s value was above $400 for a felony crime or was below $400 for a misdemeanor crime.
Prosecution of Vandalism
The prosecution must show that your action was malicious to amount to vandalism. That you intended to vandalize, and you did it unlawfully with intent to injure or annoy another. In cases where you don't cope well with a neighbor, you are there outside playing with a ball, and it accidentally enters the same neighbor’s house through the window. The neighbor calls the police, and you are charged with vandalism. A seasoned defense attorney with an understanding of criminal elements in vandalism can handle and explain an accident from vandalism.
Vandalism is a crime because a property is defaced or otherwise destroyed. There is more than just repairing the damage and filing the correct forms. Inscribed material or graffiti or any unauthorized word, figure, mark, and inscription, or design that is marked, etched, written, painted, drawn, and scratched on personal or real property counts. The destruction or defacement need not be permanent.
The damage done can't be aggregated. It means if you defaced three houses, the value destroyed in each of the houses can't be added up to get a felony. Each house is charged separately. In this case, you face three counts of vandalism.
Business owners are not allowed to sell aerosol paint to minors. It amounts to a misdemeanor for business or anyone to give or sell to a minor aerosol paint. Likewise, the law does not allow a minor to buy aerosol paint. It’s a misdemeanor crime.
It is unlawful to carry spray-paint on public streets such as recreational areas, parks or playgrounds, and Public Street or highway. Your intention of carrying spray paint in areas prohibited by the law. It is a misdemeanor crime.
Possession of spray paint to draw graffiti or vandalize property is unlawful. The prosecution can prove your intention was wrong, and you end up facing a criminal offense. It could be a misdemeanor crime.
Penalties for Vandalism
Vandalism is punishable either by imprisonment, community service, or paying fines. It includes compulsory counseling and public service depending on various factors like number and type of prior offenses, age of the offender, and the amount of damage done. Penalties largely depend on the cost of the damage. For juveniles, vandalism is mostly in the form of the cause of damage to either abandoned property or graffiti. Most vandalism charges for adults are from damage to property possessions shared with a cohabitant or spouse.
Misdemeanor Vandalism - If convicted for damages less than $400, you look up to a fine of up to $1,000 or up-to one year in county jail.
Misdemeanor Vandalism with prior conviction - for damages of at least $400 but less than $10,000, you pay up to $5,000 in fine or serve up to one year in county jail.
Misdemeanor Vandalism for conviction of damages of at least $400 but not more than $10,000, you receive a sentence of up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Felony Vandalism results from damage worth $10,000 or more. It is punishable to a fine of up to $50,000 and 3 years in state prison served in county jail.
Infraction vandalism - You face community service or a fine if convicted.
Other Available Punishment
Once convicted of vandalism, the court can order you to repair, replace the destroyed property, or clean up. Suppose you are convicted for vandalizing property through destruction using graffiti. In that case, the court has the power to order you to maintain the affected property free from graffiti for up to one year. It means you clean the property from any graffiti even if you are not vandalized.
Loss of driving license. The court can suspend your driving license for up to two years if convicted for vandalism. It is so especially at the time of conviction for a minor who was not eligible to drive. The judge can further order the DMV to delay issuing you a driver’s license for up to 3 years when legally you are eligible to drive if you did not have one at the time of conviction. The court can only decide otherwise if suspending the driver's license privilege would result in the family or personal hardship.
Special Vandalism Penalties
Prior Conviction for Vandalism
The penalty is worse after a prior vandalism conviction. Suppose you have two previous vandalism convictions that you were either granted probation or incarcerated in any of the cases. For the current issue, you have to serve a prison or jail sentence. A first-time offense for drawing graffiti is charged as an infraction. The penalty is a fine and community service. The second charge on a vandalism convict is that you are sentenced to jail or fine, or community service if you had a prior conviction.
Vandalizing a Place of Worship
Vandalizing a place of worship is exceptional from simple vandalism where charges can rise to potential sentencing. Destroying a cemetery or any place of worship is considered a wobbler. It's based on the type of property damaged or type of vandalism rather than the cost of property damaged.
A misdemeanor conviction for vandalizing a place of worship, be it a temple, synagogue, mosque, or church, can land you to up to 1 year in county jail, a maximum $1,000 fine probation conditions. A felony conviction for the same subjects you to incarceration of up to 3 years, a maximum fine of $10,000, or probation conditions. Suppose the vandalism you caused is classified as “hate crime,” that is committing an act with a purpose to intimidate or scare the victim based on religious belief. In that case, it amounts to an automatic felony sentence.
Vandalism Involving Caustic Chemicals
Committing vandalism by the act of using butyric acid, or another caustic or noxious substance or chemical is wobbler despite the damage done. A misdemeanor or felony conviction for vandalism involving chemicals takes you to jail for some years. In both misdemeanor and felony convictions, you may get a fine of between $1,000 and $50,000, or probation conditions.
Vandalizing a Freeway or Highway
In either of the sections, the conviction is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 6 months in the county jail for a first-time convict for vandalism near a highway, and up to 1 year for a second-time conviction. It also includes a fine or community service or counseling.
Additionally, whether convicted of felony or misdemeanor, you can be required to restitute the victim by repairing, replacing, fixing, or cleaning up the damage you caused to the property. Primarily, the main concern is always restitution. Many people assume vandalism charges are only for minors and do acts that qualify as vandalism.
Conviction of a Minor
Where minors are arrested for vandalism, it marks the start of a trip to the juvenile court. The parents may be held responsible for restitution or any fines ordered by the court if they are a minor. On top of this, the parents also make sure the child fulfills the legal requirements they are given, such as showing up to court and attending probation meetings or community service if the minor is convicted.
Expunging your Vandalism Conviction
If you are sentenced to probation in felony or misdemeanor vandalism cases, you may expunge your criminal record after completing the period of probation. If liable for probation violence or you didn't adhere to probation's terms and conditions, the judge is likely to deny you an expungement. For a felony convict, the court could reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor. The court can as well grant you an early termination of probation if, for the first to two years, you observe the terms and conditions of probation.
Common Defenses of Vandalism
Before creating a proper defense, it is essential to know the situation that caused damage to the property. It should be known from both sides to enable the lawyer to determine the valuable cause of action to take. In most cases, the defendant fails to realize that damage has been caused because no person was injured, making it potentially hard for the defense attorney. The issue could be more straightforward if no other crimes were committed together with vandalism.
You are falsely accused, and you are not the one who vandalized the property. It's possible if the person who vandalized the property description matches you. You didn't vandalize the property, but you were seen with more people who violated the vandalism law. Further, someone could have mistakenly believed that you vandalized their property, even if you weren't involved, and blames you for doing so.
A wrongful arrest or false allegations is common in domestic violence cases. Revenge, jealousy, and anger could see people make false allegations on an innocent person to have control of that person. At times, property gets destroyed accidentally, and then blame laid wrongfully on the partner or spouse.
A person could be accused of vandalism with a motive of covering criminal culpability. It's possible, like in a situation where several teenagers spray graffiti maliciously. However, some decide to set one of them as guilty and escape the criminal offense.
Lack of requisite mental state in committing vandalism
When defacing or damaging the property, it must be a malicious act by the defendant. If it was without unlawful intent and did it unintentionally and not to injure property or annoy, it can be used as a defense. All the elements of vandalism must be present for the act to amount to a criminal offense.
You are the owner of the damaged property
You are required to prove ownership of the defaced property. It happens when you and your spouse argue in anger resulting in escalation and breaking of property. Your spouse calls authorities and makes false allegations against you. A defense lawyer can prove that you only maliciously deface or damage property that you do not own. It makes a good defense in vandalism.
No criminal offense was committed
Maybe the owner of the property permitted you to do what you did to the property. A good example is when the landlord allows you to pull down some shelves and put up some other shelves of your choice. The landlord later files a case against you on vandalism. On the other hand, the defendant could have damaged someone’s property and use the owner’s consent as a defense.
Lack of Evidence
Other defenses include lack of evidence, physical impossibility, and alibi. Vandalism crimes often happen at night, have few witnesses, or in circumstances that could make many people be suspected and not necessarily the charged one. The prosecutor faces a challenge in such situations to identify the actual victim.
Exaggerated Cost of Damage
The value of the damage might be exaggerated in some cases. Experienced vandalism defense lawyer from Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, looks at the available options to the best of your interest. The attorney can get a charge of felony vandalism reduced to a misdemeanor charge or, better still, have the charges against you dropped or dismissed.
In domestic violence cases, vandalism is considered an additional charge where the property has been damaged or destroyed during an argument. The additional penalty of vandalism conviction or malicious mischief is severe. It would be best if you did not plead guilty to it blindly without realizing its impact on you.
Handling Vandalism Out of Court
Whether you go up to trial through a court process or the victim agrees you settle the matter out of court, you need a vandalism defense attorney to help you all through. Most vandalism cases are malicious destruction to an individual’s personal property. If restitution can be made, the victim may opt to drop the charges. Most victims are after being paid for the damage caused. After the defendant is convicted to a jail term, it becomes difficult for the victim of the vandalized property to be paid.
The property owner is compensated, and your conviction record is clean. Juvenile vandalism gets future negative consequences after conviction. There general life opportunities like employment, running for office, apartment renting, and higher education are destroyed. A criminal record is an automatic disqualification from being considered or accepted for an opportunity. It is often for the benefit of both parties to settle the vandalism case out of the court.
Other Crimes Charged Together with Vandalism
Trespass law prohibits one from entering into another person’s property without due right to do so. It means you are wrongfully on another person’s property, and you cause vandalism. The trespass law mostly amounts to a misdemeanor. You face both vandalism and trespass offenses.
The law prohibits setting fire maliciously on another person's property or your property on some special occasions. The prosecution could charge you with setting the property on fire and destroying or vandalizing that same property. Arson is a felony, and penalties depend on whether or not someone was injured by the fire, the type of property in question, and whether you set the fire recklessly or willfully.
Entering another person’s property with the intent of committing petty theft or felony once you are inside is not allowed by the law. The prosecutor might believe that you entered another person’s property to commit felony vandalism, and you are charged with both burglary and vandalism offenses. Burglary of an inhabited structure or house is a felony with a prison term of up to six years. Burglary of uninhabited buildings (structures where no one lives) is a wobbler.
Criminal Street Gang Enhancement
The penal code includes an additional penalty to a felony or an attempted felony conviction to an offense committed to benefit or by orders of a criminal street gang that has specific intents to further their criminal activity. “Tagging” is a graffiti commonly used to promote a certain gang. The prosecutor is likely to charge the gang enhancement and any vandalism connected to them that involve graffiti suggesting tagging crew affiliation or gang.
Domestic Violence Laws
Malicious damage of co-owned property with a spouse or partner is common during domestic fights or heated disputes. Vandalism offense charges are added to domestic violence charges. The judge is allowed by law to presume that the property you vandalized is not yours, whether private, commercial, or public, and that you didn’t have permission to destroy it.
Damaging Electrical or Telephone Lines
Obstructing, cutting, or damaging electrical or phone cable lines or any equipment connected with these lines leads to wobbler penalties. You are likely to be charged with both vandalism and damaging an electrical or telephone line by damaging such property. It’s a form of damage to property but is charged under different laws.
Find A Experienced Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me
In Orange County, an action such as writing your name on another person’s building could amount to vandalism. Several people are shocked to learn that they have been charged because of performing actions they didn’t know could amount to vandalism. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have helped many defendants facing vandalism have the charges dropped. We look into every detail of your case, and since vandalism is often done without malice or accidental; we will be able to develop a strong defense strategy. Call us now regarding your case at 714-740-784.