What is Vandalism?

When someone purposefully or maliciously destroys, defaces, damages or disfigures a public or private property, without the owner’s consent, it is vandalism. It can cost millions of dollars, paid for by taxpayers and/or private property owners, to fix. Different forms of vandalism include graffiti, tagging, acquisitive (such as destroying a vending machine to get money or products inside), breaking windows, arson, damaging mailboxes, churches, schools, cemeteries, library books, playground equipment or other municipal property, and littering, among other examples. Simply having items such as aerosol paint containers as a minor, or possessing other vandalism tools such as noxious or caustic chemicals may be cause for a vandalism charge as well.

Depending on the circumstances, a vandalism charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. If a person is charged with vandalism for the first time and the damage costs less than a few hundred dollars to fix, it is typically a misdemeanor. If this is a subsequent charge or conviction, involves gang activity or is a hate crime, or the damage is more costly to fix, the charge is more likely to be a felony or upgraded to a felony. Damage to a school, house of worship, or cemetery is automatically a felony.

Possible Penalties

For a misdemeanor, penalties range from fines, making restitution, community service, up to three years of informal probation, no jail time to up to one year in jail, and/or having a permanent criminal record. For a felony, penalties range from formal probation, restitution, community service, fines up to $5,000, potential suspension of a driver’s license, and/or jail time up to three years, and the creation of a permanent criminal record.

Common Defenses for Vandalism

These include self-ownership of the vandalized property, claiming the damage was done in self defense, by accident, or out of necessity, that the owner said it was OK to do, that there was no malice intended or that no damage happened, or that a person’s Miranda Warnings weren’t given.

Vandalism of a Federal Property

Such charges are serious, and include vandalism of mailboxes, at national parks, monuments, historic locations, military operations, and post offices, among other places.

If you or a loved one have been charged with vandalism, contact our offices at Altman & Altman, 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 toll-free, or contact us online for a free consultation.

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