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Is Vandalism Considered a Felony?
(Elements, Penalties & Defences)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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As a criminal defense lawyer with years of experience, I have seen countless cases of vandalism and their impact on those accused. Many people often ask, "Is vandalism a felony?"

In this article, I will provide an in-depth analysis of what vandalism is, when it is considered a felony or misdemeanor, the elements needed to prove vandalism, possible penalties, and common defenses used in vandalism cases. 

Quick Summary

  • Vandalism is the wrongful act of intentionally damaging or destroying someone else's property without their consent.
  • The elements needed to prove vandalism include intent, damage, or destruction of property and property ownership.
  • ​​Possible penalties for vandalism can range from fines, community service, and state prison to jail time, depending on whether the crime was a felony offense.

What Is Vandalism?

A person vandalizing propertiesVandalism is intentionally damaging or destroying a specified property of someone else without their consent [1].

The legal definition of vandalism is defined under California Penal Code 594, which covers damaging or defacing property that does not belong to you.

Property can be buildings, vehicles, public property, and personal belongings.  

Acts of vandalism can include:

  • Graffiti
  • Breaking windows or car windshield
  • Cutting trees without permission
  • Destroying school playground equipment

Vandalism is also known as malicious mischief or criminal mischief.

When Is Vandalism Considered A Felony Or A Misdemeanor?

A person committing vandalism outsisdeVandalism is considered a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the severity of the damage and the value of the personal property.

In most states, vandalism is considered a misdemeanor if the damage is minor and the property's value is low [2].

The offense will be considered a misdemeanor if the damage costs below $400. If the damage is $400 or higher, the charges could become a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. 

Vandalism Elements

A person destroying private property

Vandalism consists of distinct elements, similar to other crimes that the prosecutor must prove for a vandalism conviction. According to vandalism laws, all of these elements must be demonstrated to be convicted of vandalism.

Now let's examine the various factors involved in vandalism.

  • Physical damage. Vandalism includes various forms of damage, including graffiti, tagging, carving, etching, and other acts that could permanently harm private property without rendering it unusable. 
  • Owned by someone else. To be considered vandalism, you must damage a property owned or possessed by someone else, and you must do so without the owner's consent. You cannot commit vandalism by adding bumper stickers to your car with permission or by covering your fence in graffiti.
  • Intentionally. Committing vandalism requires unlawful intent to cause damage to someone else's property.

"Most acts of vandalism are probably nothing more than mild pranks, but extreme acts like arson count as both vandalism and a violent crime, wherein two counts of charges can apply for a single act."
- Daniel E. Kann, Criminal Defense Attorney at Kann California Defense Group

Possible Penalties For Vandalism

A person spraying paint on the camera

The threshold for misdemeanor and felony charges can vary in certain states and may also depend on the type of property affected. Additionally, the penalties for vandalism can differ from state to state.

Below are some of the most common punishments that individuals may face for vandalism charges:

For example, penalties for a misdemeanor can include the following, fines, community service, up to three years of informal probation, possibly serving up to one year in jail, and additionally, a permanent criminal record may result.

There are vandalism penalty exceptions as well, based on the case. According to California law, if you commit vandalism as a minor, you will be convicted of violating California Penal Code Section 594, 594.3, or 594.4. Your ability to drive will be taken away for a maximum of two years.

This does not apply if the court determines that the person faces personal or family hardship that necessitates having a driver's license for employment, school, or medical reasons.

Related ArticleHow Long Does A Misdemeanor Stay On Your Record?

Common Defenses For Vandalism

A lawyer looking at the defenses for vandalism

Several common defenses can be used in vandalism cases, including:

  • Lack of intent
  • Ownership
  • Contest
  • Justification for the damage

Lack of intent means that the defendant did not intend to cause damage or destruction to the property.

Ownership defense means that the defendant owns the property and, therefore, cannot be accused of causing vandalism on their property.

Justification for the damage means that the defendant had a valid reason to cause the damage, such as self-defense, defense of property, or necessity.

You can sometimes contest vandalism by proving that a police officer arrested you without probable cause.

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Does The Value Of Property Damage Matter With The Vandalism Charge?

Yes, the value of property damage does matter with the vandalism charge and can determine whether vandalism is considered a felony or misdemeanor. In most states, if the damage is minor and the property's value is low, it is considered a misdemeanor offense.

How Serious Is Felony Vandalism?

Felony vandalism is a serious offense that can result in significant penalties, including fines and jail time. Depending on the crime's severity and state laws, a felony conviction could result in a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Does "Malicious" Mean In The Context Of Vandalism?

In the context of vandalism, "malicious" means to intentionally cause damage or destruction to real or personal property without their consent. Malicious intent is an essential element needed to prove vandalism.

Contact A Criminal Defense Lawyer

Whether it was a felony or a misdemeanor vandalism, it is still a serious crime that can result in significant penalties, including fines and jail time. The penalties' severity depends on the damage's severity and the property's value.

Suppose you or someone you know is accused of vandalism. In that case, it's essential to consult a criminal defense attorney from Schmidt & Clark, LLP in a free consultation session to ensure that your rights are protected and to explore your options for defense.