California Penal Code section 594 is the statute the defines what vandalism is. That section states that “every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, is guilty of vandalism.” Those acts are 1) graffiti, 2) damaging, or 3) destroying. In short, if you damage, destroy or cover with graffiti any property that is not yours, that is vandalism. Thus, it’s not just those young kids spraying graffiti on the walls, it’s items broken during a fight, breaking things in a store, crashing a stolen car, etc.
But, this definition requires that you have malicious or unlawful intent with regards to the damage. Thus, if you accidentally damaged or defaced someone’s property, you wouldn’t be guilty of vandalism.
Now, many people might view a vandalism case or charge as something relatively minor. “Hey, I damaged some property and no big deal, I’ll just plead guilty and pay to replace it.” Well, as the title to this blog reads, it’s a little more than meets the eye. Upon a conviction for vandalism, fines, yes, fines, can run you anywhere between $400 and $50,000. Yes, you heard correctly, $50,000. Much of this depends on the amount of the property that was damaged, but those are just the fines!
So, in addition to owing significant fines to the court for a conviction of vandalism, you might also have to deal with the fact that you’ve actually been convicted of a crime and that your criminal history now reflects that. If the damage is $400 or more, vandalism can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. If the damage is under $400, the charge will be filed as a misdemeanor. Thus, any employer or future employer or state licensing board will see this in your background check and this will raise some red flags. In Los Angeles county, the standard probation for a misdemeanor conviction is 3 years and for those 3 years, you cannot have your conviction expunged unless a judge agrees to terminate that probation early.
Also, the court has the authority, and “shall do so when feasible”, order you to show up and clean, repair or replace the damaged property. The court can also order that your driver’s license be suspended upon a conviction for vandalism for up to 2 years, order mandatory counseling and/or community service.
So, you might be asking yourself, “what do I do to fight all of these penalties and obligations?” I thought you would never ask! There are a number of ways to fight a vandalism charge and the first, in my mind, comes down to whether you actually intended to cause damage to the property or what it an accident or mistake. Also, what was the nature of the property (shared, formerly yours, not owned, etc).
I would also want to know who the “victim” in the matter is and the relation of that person to my client. A lot of property damage crimes can be resolved by simply reaching out to the victim and working out a way for that person to be made whole and have their property brought back to the condition it was in prior to the incident or paid for.
There might be a way to get a civil compromise in this case which, if worked out, can have criminal proceedings permanently suspended (effectively case dismissed) if the victim signs off on an agreement that they were made whole and compensated for any out-of-pocket expenses they may have had as a result of the conduct.
In short, you don’t want to get convicted of vandalism or any other property damage crime. As you can see, there are a number of variables that come with getting convicted and too many options that a judge has discretion over to order as additional penalties against you. You want to leave as little to discretion as possible and ensure that you get a result that is clear and guaranteed and something that has as little impact on your record and freedom as possible.
Contact Ross Erlich Law for a free case consultation and find out about additional ways to keep yourself free.