What constitutes Vandalism?
Vandalism and graffiti laws are covered under Penal Code 594 PC. This law prohibits defacing someone else’s property with graffiti or other written material, and damaging or destroying it. Though most people think of rowdy teenagers wreaking havoc in the community when they think of vandalism—there are many other activities that are considered vandalism. Some examples of these activities include keying a car and writing your name in wet cement on the sidewalk. If you are convicted of vandalism, you can face jail time and even large fines.
Elements of the Crime of Vandalism
In order to be convicted of vandalism the prosecutor must prove that you maliciously defaced, damaged or destroyed property, that you didn’t worn the property and whether the damage was more or less than $400. Interestingly, the vandalism law applies to property that you may jointly own with another person such as a spouse. This means that you may be convicted of vandalizing your own property if your spouse were to file a case against you regarding property that you both own together. If the damage you’ve caused is less than $400, then the prosecutor can only charge you with misdemeanor vandalism; any amount over $400 and you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Under 594 PC if the value of the damages is $400 or less, then it’s considered a misdemeanor and penalties can include up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000 (or $5,000 if you have had previous vandalism convictions) and even informal probation. If the damages are more than $400 then the vandalism charge is considered a wobbler—meaning it can be charged as either a felony or as a misdemeanor. The prosecutor can decide to charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case and based on your past criminal history. If the amount of damage is more than $400 and you are convicted of a misdemeanor then you might face up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $10,000 (if the damages were more than $10,000 then you can face a maximum fine of up to $50,000) and even informal probation. If the damage was more than $400 and you were convicted of a felony then you may face either probation with up to one year in jail or a be placed in jail for anywhere from 16 months to 3 years, you may face a fine of up to $10,000 or $50,000 if the damage was more than $10,000 and informal probation.
An attorney may argue that the allegations made against you were false or that you were wrongfully arrested. This may occur if you and your spouse were arguing and the argument escalated to objects being broken and in the moment they called the authorities and made false allegations. It can also be argued that it was a mistaken identity and that you simply look like the person who did vandalize the property in question.