Vandalism is the intentional destruction of another person's property, punishable under California law, PC 594. Depending on the type of offense committed, someone sentenced for this act may face both minor and substantial charges. It is critical to seek legal counsel to guarantee that you receive a fair hearing and the necessary legal assistance in such a matter. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are dedicated to providing the best legal counsel to our clients. Reach out to us if you are facing charges for vandalism in Riverside, CA.
Understanding Vandalism as Per California Law
Vandalism is defined in California PC 594 PC as maliciously destroying, defacing, or damaging another individual's property. If the damage caused is no more than $400.00, it's considered a misdemeanor. However, if the sum is $400.00 or more, the offense becomes a felony.
Most people associate vandalism with neighborhood children or teenagers who land up in California juvenile court after shattering people's mailboxes. However, California vandalism lawsuits can be filed for a variety of reasons that you would not expect. Here are a few examples:
- Breaking some expensive crockery that you own together during a quarrel with your spouse
- Writing your name, signs, or initials in wet cement on a city pavement
- Keying the vehicle of a person you know as a form of vengeance for something bad they've done to you
In California, vandalism allegations are taken seriously. A conviction for vandalism can lead to hefty fines and jail time.
Elements of California Vandalism Crime
To successfully prosecute an accused, a prosecutor needs to prove all of the components of the offense. The following are the elements of vandalism:
That You Intentionally Damaged or Destroyed Another Individual’s Property By Vandalizing With Graffiti or Any Inscribed Material
The emphasis in this scenario is mainly on graffiti or other inscribed items. This term implies any unauthorized marks, figures, designs, or inscriptions drawn, carved, painted, or written on the property of the complainant. Simply put, any unlawful writing or drawing on private or public premises using any equipment qualifies as a violation of the description.
Any structure attached to land is considered real property, while personal property means anything that is part of another person's property, like a car or furnishings in a home. The statute is unclear as to whether the engraved material or graffiti has to be lasting to be included in the accusations.
Aside from graffiti, California laws cover a variety of other acts of vandalism. These include:
- Spray painting on public bridges or a highway
- Keying another person's vehicle
- Engraving words initials onto park benches or trees
- Ripping the tires of an ex-partner's vehicle
- Throwing a stone through a window, either yours or someone else's
- Invading your own or another individual's property
The Property Was Owned By Someone Else
It could appear obvious that a vandalism crime is connected with property or premises that one doesn't own, though there are certain delicate points to consider. If the purported vandalism occurred on public grounds, like a park or beach, the jury will assume you don't own the property, which will support the allegations.
Furthermore, the Vandalism law extends to jointly owned property, under PC 594. For example, if you destroy property that you share with your spouse or partner, you could still be charged with vandalism.
The Action Was Malicious
An act of malice is defined when:
- The defendant intentionally commits a wrongdoing
- Illegal conduct was done with the intent to damage another person's property
The action doesn't imply that the accused meant or had the intention of breaking the statute per se. For that reason, if the conduct was done accidentally, then the defendant is not guilty of the offense.
The Levels of Destruction, Damage, or Defacement Ranged Within a Certain Financial Value
Vandalism is classified as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the monetary worth of the destroyed property. The prosecution will bring vandalism charges of a misdemeanor if the cost to replace or repair the damaged property does not exceed $400.
If the cost to repair or replace the property exceeds $400, the prosecution will charge the offender with either a felony or misdemeanor.
Penalties for Infringing California Vandalism Legislation
Anyone accused of vandalism is more likely to face severe consequences, punishments, and incarceration. In California, vandalism has several complicated consequences. The following are the penalties:
Misdemeanor Vandalism Penalties
A misdemeanor offense is one in which the worth of the damages caused to a property is less than $400. The following punishments could be imposed in such situations:
- Imprisonment for up to 1 year
- If you have a history of vandalism, you could face a fine ranging from one thousand dollars to five thousand dollars
- Serve probation time
The probation imposes several limitations and penalties, including:
- Your California driver's license could be suspended for 2 years. Meanwhile, if you don't have a driver's license, you would face a 1 to 3 years delay in being eligible for one
- Engagement in volunteer work in the community. Personal cleaning, replacing, and repairing damaged properties are a few of the duties that you could be required to undertake
- Keeping the defaced property or another individual's property clear of graffiti for a year
Felony Vandalism Penalties
Vandalism damages exceeding $400 are deemed a wobbler under California PC 594 PC. For this reason, if the damages of property exceed $400, the accused faces sanctions including:
- One year in prison
- If the value of the damages caused sum up to $10,000 or more, then maximum fines of $10,000 or $50,000 could be imposed on the defendant
- Probation restrictions are similar to those for misdemeanor vandalism
Anyone convicted of criminal vandalism bears the following sanctions:
- Probation with a 1-year jail term, or a term of imprisonment of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
- If the value of the damages are $10,000 or more, fines of up to ten thousand dollars or utmost fifty thousand dollars could be imposed
- Similar conditions for probation provided for a misdemeanor offense
Note that if you had previously done probation in 1 or more vandalism cases, California law mandates that you serve prison time in your present case.
Graffiti Damages Penalties
The damage value limit for a prosecution to charge the defendant with graffiti vandalization is two hundred and fifty dollars. This implies the destruction must be worth less than or equal to $250.
In this situation, the prosecutor can choose whether to bring vandalism charges under PC 640.5, or 640.6, instead of PC 594. The defendant has to have committed preceding California graffiti or vandalism offenses for the prosecution to charge him or her with PC 640.6 or 640.5.
Penalties for First-Time Vandalism Offenses
Any conviction for California graffiti vandalism without a prior similar offense is considered an infraction. The following are some of the possible consequences of such an offense:
- Doing community service
- Fines of up to $1,000
Penalties for Second Vandalism Sentences
If the damage costs less than $250, a prosecution should charge the defendant with misdemeanor charges under PC 594 and other California vandalism laws. If the defendant is found guilty under PC 640.6 or 640.5, the sanctions could differ from those imposed by PC 594. The following are the penalties:
- Imprisonment for no more than six months in a county jail
- Fines of up to two thousand dollars
- Volunteer work in the community
Penalties for Subsequent and Third Vandalism Convictions
There are 3 factors to consider when determining whether a guilty verdict falls into this categorization. They are as follows:
- If you've been convicted of 2 or more vandalism crimes in the past, you'll get a longer-term
- You were sentenced of graffiti costing less than two hundred and fifty dollars under PC 640.6 or 640.5
- Served a jail sentence or probation for one or both offenses
Sanctions for Other Kinds of Vandalism
Aside from California PC 594, other legislation can charge anyone who does a vandalism act. Other laws, on the other hand, evaluate the types of properties and the kind of damage the defendant commits rather than the amount of damage. The following is an example of vandalism:
Vandalism to a Place of Worship
Vandalism in a house of worship, regardless of whether it's a temple, church, mosque, or other institution of worship, is considered a wobble under PC 594.3 PC, regardless of the amount of the damages.
The following are the punishments for misdemeanor crimes:
- Imprisonment for no more than 1 year in county jail
- Fines of up to one thousand dollars
- All probation restrictions imposed under PC 594
If a person is convicted of a crime, he/she could face the following penalties:
- Jail sentence for sixteen months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison
- All probation restrictions defined under PC 594
- Maximum fines of no more than $10,000
It’s worth noting that if you were trying to frighten or threaten someone because of their religious views, you were committing a hate offense. In this situation, you will instantly be charged with a felony.
Similar action to the one described earlier at a cemetery or mortuary will result in the same sanctions under Penal Code 594.35 PC.
Vandalism Near or on a Highway or Freeway
Vandalism on a freeway or highway is punishable under California PC 640.8 and 640.7. Such offenses are classified as misdemeanor crimes and are subject to the following penalties:
- A first offense on/near highways carries a 6-month prison sentence
- Prison sentence of up to 1 year for a subsequent or first offense of vandalism on/near freeways
- Participate in mandatory community service and/or seek counseling
Expungement of a California Vandalism Sentence
Since there is potential for parole in minor offenses of a vandalism sentence, your lawsuit could be deleted from California’s criminal records once you finish your probation term. Even so, if you violate part of the probation's terms, the judge can refuse to delete your record.
Furthermore, anyone sentenced for felony vandalism could request that the penalties be reduced to misdemeanor vandalism. If you follow the rules and regulations of your parole for the 1st year or two, you could be eligible for early termination.
Defenses for Vandalism Charges
If you need to win your lawsuit, you'll have to hire a criminal defense attorney. Your legal counsel should raise relevant statutory defenses in your favor to evade the harsh penalties or have all the accusations dismissed by the judge. The following are legal defenses strategies to vandalism accusations:
Your Actions Were Not Malicious
To prove that the defendant's action was an act of vandalism, the prosecutor must prove that he/she willfully vandalized another individual's property, as required by PC 594. If the behavior was unintentional, your lawyer can exploit this to your advantage.
The Damaged Property Belonged to You
California’s PC 594 PC mandates a defendant to have deliberately damaged or defaced the victim's property or premises to fulfill the offense. As a result, if the defendant committed the crime on his or her property and there is admissible proof that the property belongs to the accused, then the attorney can utilize this as a defense in court.
You Had the Owner's Permission
If you received approval from the owner of the property to demolish something, the conduct isn’t malicious because you have the owner's authorization. To fulfill this defense, you should show proof that you received the owner's permission.
The Claims were Untrue
Most vandalism offenses have a relation with domestic instances. As a result, you could face false accusations as a result of envy, vengeance, or hatred directed at you. As a form of retribution or jealousy, someone else could deface or damage another individual's property and blame it on you.
Exaggerated Damage Costs
In some circumstances, the damage value could be exaggerated. An experienced criminal defense lawyer from the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm considers all of your choices to see what is best for you. A professional can help you have a felony vandalism charge reduced to a minor or, better still, have the accusations against you withdrawn or dismissed.
When a property is destroyed or damaged during a domestic violence incident, vandalism is considered an additional offense. A conviction for vandalism or malicious mischief carries a harsher sentence. It would be great if you didn't just admit to the charges without thinking about the consequences.
You were Identified Incorrectly
You could also argue that you were incorrectly identified as the actual offender. This could occur if either:
- Your description corresponds to the perpetrator
- You were associated with the perpetrator
- Somebody wrongly believes you're guilty of the incident and has accused you of it, which is not the case
Handling Vandalism Outside Court
If you've been to trial in court or the complainant accepts a settlement outside of court, you'll need a criminal defense attorney to guide you through the legal procedures. The majority of vandalism cases involve the malicious destruction of a victim's personal property. The victim could choose to withdraw the allegations if restitution could be made. Most victims want to be compensated for their losses. After the offender is sentenced to prison, it becomes harder for the plaintiff to be compensated for the vandalized property.
The property owner receives compensation, and your criminal record is spotless. After a sentence for juvenile vandalism, there are long-term implications. General life opportunities, such as securing a job, renting an apartment, obtaining a higher degree, and running for office can be obliterated. A criminal background will automatically exclude you from being accepted for such positions. Due to this, it's often in the best interests of both parties to resolve the vandalism matter outside of court.
Certain offenses carry similar sanctions or are related to vandalism crimes. The following are examples of these types of offenses:
Under PC Section 602, it's forbidden to gain entry to another individual’s property or premises without their consent. For this reason, if you intruded on someone's property and then damaged or destroyed it, you'll be convicted for both charges.
As previously stated, there is a strong connection between domestic violence and vandalism. This occurs when the intervention arose from a dispute between a couple. In such a case, two laws apply PC 273.5 and PC 243(e)(1).
According to California PC 273.5 PC, one spouse must knowingly inflict bodily harm on their partner, resulting in a traumatic state such as a visible wound.
As per California PC 459, it's a violation of the statute to set foot in the premises of another individual's property without their knowledge, to carry out a felony or petty theft once you’re inside.
Consequently, if you're caught inside the property and intended to commit a felony vandalism offense, the prosecution can convict you for both vandalism and burglary.
Burglary in a populated structure or residence is a crime punishable by up to 6 years in state prison. The lawsuit becomes a wobble if the crime occurred in a populated facility.
Arson is defined in California PC 451 as the intentional setting of fire to an individual's property. In some situations, the law also extends to your personal property. If you are accused of arson, a prosecutor could also accuse you of vandalism because you harmed the same premises or property.
The act is usually punishable by a felony, depending on the following factors
- The victims sustained injuries from the offense
- The kind of property in question
- Whether you sparked the fire on purpose or by accident
Damaging Electrical/Telephone Lines
Wobbler fines apply if you obstruct, cut, or damage phone cable or electrical lines, or any gear related to these lines. By destroying such property, you're likely to be prosecuted for both damaging an electrical or telephone line and vandalism. It's a type of property damage, but it's prosecuted under distinct laws.
Enhancement of Criminal Street Gangs
A crime committed with the intent of promoting, or on the instructions of a criminal gang with special objectives to enhance their illegal activity carries an additional sanction under the penal code. Tagging is a type of graffiti that is usually done to encourage a certain gang.
Frequently Asked Questions on California Vandalism
Can I Still Be Charged With Vandalism Even If the Damage was Not Long Lasting?
Yes, under California PC 594, the damage of property doesn't have to be lasting to be considered vandalism. The legislation, for instance, considers writing with a pen on glass windows a penal defacement.
Can I Have My Charges Reduced?
You need to consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer. The legal counsel will attempt to have the charges dropped first. If the lawsuit cannot be withdrawn, the lawyer could be able to have the penalty reduced. For vandalism, legal counsel can assist you to get felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor with milder penalties.
Does the Penalty Get Worse If I Have a Prior Conviction For Vandalism?
The legislation mandates that you should serve a prison sentence for the current lawsuit if you had two prior offenses and were either jailed or given probation in one of them.
Is There a Way to Avoid Having My Driver's License Suspended?
An individual convicted of vandalism could choose to serve community service on close watch of the probationary department to shorten the length of the suspension or delay instituted by the court.
The length of delay or suspension issued shall be decreased by 1 day for each hour of probation work done. Additionally, your legal counsel should negotiate a plea deal that doesn't involve a suspended driver's license.
Find a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have assisted many clients facing vandalism accusations in having their charges dismissed or reduced. Our professionals investigate every aspect of your matter, and because vandalism is normally done accidentally or without malice, we can help design a powerful defense strategy in your favor. Call us at 951-946-6366 if you are facing vandalism charges in Riverside, California.