Vandalism, under Penal Code 594 in California, is an act that involves maliciously damaging, destroying or defacing someone else’s property. Though vandalism is often thought to apply in cases where juveniles are concerned, the crime extends applies to anyone who is found:
- Damaging property within the home during domestic fights, where you own the property together,
- Defacing someone’s property (car, home, public buildings, etc.),
- Illegally signing a name or other symbols in wet concrete in a public place.
For the charge to be considered vandalism, the prosecutor must prove that the necessary elements of the crime were present. These elements include:
- That the act of defacing, destroying or damaging the property was malicious
- That the property was not yours or was co-owned
- That the property in question was valued at below $400 (for a misdemeanor) or above $400 (for a felony crime).
Misdemeanor vandalism applies where the damage is less than $400 and is subject to:
- 1 year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1000. If there are prior convictions, the fines can be up to $5000
- And informal (summary) probation, which has the following consequences:
- Suspension of driver’s license for up to 2 years. Where a defendant doesn’t have a license, their eligibility for one will be delayed by between 1 to 3 years.
- Compulsory counselling
- Community service
- Guarding the damaged property and other property in the neighborhood to ensure it’s not vandalized.
Where the damage incurred is above $400, the crime will be treated as a wobbler (either a misdemeanor or felony wobbler), and this depends on circumstances of the case and criminal history.
If the case is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties will be:
- 1 to 3 years in county jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
- Up to $50,000 in fines if the damage was valued at $10,000 or more.
- In certain cases, the summary probation conditions listed above will apply.
If the crime is charge as a felony, you will incur some or all of the penalties listed below:
- 1 year in county jail and probation, or, between 16 months to 3 years in jail.
- A fine of up to $10,000
- A fine of up to $50,000 if damage was above $10,000
- Summary probation conditions listed under misdemeanor vandalism above.
- If you have been convicted of vandalism at least twice and was incarcerated or granted probation in at least one of them, a jail or prison sentence is a must.
Where the vandalism committed involves graffiti and the cost of repairing is below $250, the charges can be governed by Penal Code 640.5 PC or 640.6 PC.First time
A first time graffiti offence is charged as an infraction, the penalties for which are community service and a fine of up to $1000.Second charge
If you’ve been previously charged and convicted under any California vandalism law or graffiti statutes and the current damage will cost less than $250 to repair, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor.
Penalties for misdemeanor under graffiti laws are less severe than those under Penal Code 594. You’ll therefore receive:
- a maximum of 6 months in county jail,
- a maximum fine of $2000.
- You may also have to do community service.
If the damage in your current case is less than $250 but you have 2 prior vandalism convictions and where one of them resulted in probation or jail sentence, you’ll be punished with the following misdemeanor penalties:
- 1-year county jail time
- Fines of up to $3000
- Community service.
Your criminal defense attorney can argue your case in court using the following defenses to get the charges reduced or get a dismissal.
- The damage you caused was accidental
- The accusations against you are false
- It’s a case of mistaken identity, the accused was not the vandal
Vandalism is one of the most ardently prosecuted crimes in California. City and District Attorneys want to punish and deter people from vandalizing public and private property, and they actively push for harsher sentences. Contact our criminal attorney today if you are facing a vandalism charge.