Most people think vandalism is a crime charged mainly against teenagers. While minors are frequently charged, vandalism and graffiti laws were also written with adult gang members in mind. As a result, it's possible to go to jail or prison for vandalism. In fact, California law makes it a crime just to possess certain things, such as an aerosol spray can, a felt-tipped marker or a cutting tool, with the intent to commit vandalism. Our Inland Empire vandalism defense attorneys defend charges like these vigorously in order to keep our clients out of jail or juvenile hall.
State law defines vandalism as maliciously defacing, destroying or damaging someone else's property. Penalties depend on the monetary value of the damage done. For vandalism resulting in less than $400 worth of damage, the penalty is up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. For $400 or more in damage, the jail term remains the same, but the fine rises to $10,000 or $50,000. The court may also order someone convicted of vandalism to clean up, repair or replace the damaged property, or keep a property clean and undamaged for one year. If that's not possible, the court is authorized to order other types of community service. It may also choose to send the defendant to counseling.
Special rules apply to defendants under the age of 18. For one thing, parents of minor defendants may be ordered to help with fines and cleanup obligations. For another, state law simply prohibits minors from buying aerosol spray cans or "etching cream" that can be used for graffiti. Minors under 18 also may not possess those things with the intent to use them for graffiti.
More serious charges may be leveled against both adults and minors for vandalism of a house of worship or a cemetery. In particular, if defacement of any religious building is found to be a hate crime, the defendant may face felony rather than misdemeanor charges.
At HOWARD LAW, PC, we prefer to get involved with vandalism cases early so we can prevent unnecessarily harsh charges and penalties from staying on our clients' records forever. Especially in cases involving small amounts of damage, we can often convince prosecutors to consider a community service sentence rather than jail time. For minor defendants and their parents, we can argue against a fine or service obligation that would be a hardship for the family. And in possession with intent cases, we defend our clients simply by insisting that prosecutors prove intent to commit vandalism -- which is not always easy.
If you or your child is facing charges of vandalism and graffiti, Howard Law can help. For a consultation on your case and your options, please contact us through our Web site or call 1-800-872-5925 today.