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Vandalism: What it Entails

Vandalism is a potentially very serious crime.

Depending on the amount of damage, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As with most crimes, if you’re charged with vandalism, you can usually post bail so that you don’t have to sit in a cell while you await trial. In most cases, you will need a bail bonds company to help you post bail, as the amount will likely be more than you can afford in cash.

What is considered vandalism?

The vandalism laws in California specify that vandalism is any activity that defaces, damages, or destroys any real or personal property owned by someone else with graffiti or other intentional damage or inscribed material. It also specifies that this act must be malicious, meaning the act must be intentional.

For example, spray painting a design on a business’s wall is vandalism. Dropping a can of paint you just bought to paint your living room with, and having it splash on that same business’s wall is not vandalism, as it wasn’t intentional and you were not trying to deface, damage, or destroy the wall.

California law also bans a few other things, along with vandalism:

  • Selling, giving or otherwise providing minors with etching cream or spray paint that’s capable of property damage without asking for proof of age and identity
  • Minors purchasing or possessing etching cream or spray paint
  • Openly carrying etching cream or spray paint in public without valid authorization to do so
  • possession of a lass drill or masonry bit, carbide drill bit, grinding stone, glass cutter, chisel, awl, carbide scribe, felt tip marker, aerosol paint can, or any other substance capable of leaving permanent markings with the intent to commit graffiti

Violation of those prohibitions is a misdemeanor, and each includes a provision allowing for activities in graffiti cleanup or community service in addition to the usual misdemeanor punishments available.

Punishments for vandalism

California’s laws punish vandalism differently based on the property damage value. This does not mean based on the value of the property itself, but based on the value of the damage done – in other words, the cost to repair the property to the condition it was in before the vandalism occurred.

The punishments for vandalism are as follows:

  • Up to $400: incarceration in county jail for up to one year, a $1,000 fine, or both
  • Up to $400, when a defendant has a prior vandalism conviction: incarceration in county jail for up to one year, a fine of $5,000, or both
  • $400 to up to $10,000: jail or prison term of up to one year OR a fine of up to $10,000
  • $10,000 or more: fine of up to $50,000 OR incarceration in jail or prison for up to one year and a fine

In most cases, a vandalism conviction will also include an order that the defendant (and if he’s a minor, his parents or guardians) needs to clean, replace or repair the property he damaged personally, and to then keep that property or another specified in the area, free of graffiti for up to a year. This is in addition to the usual misdemeanor punishments.
Enhanced vandalism
In addition, there are enhancements to these crimes as well. This means that some acts of vandalism are seen as worse than others, and therefore, are punished more harshly with enhanced penalties.

These acts are:

  • Vandalizing a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, or any other building that is owned and occupied by a religious organization, including cemeteries
  • Using butyric acid or other caustic or noxious chemicals
  • If the vandalism is shown to be a hate crime committed with the intention of deterring and intimidating someone from the free expression of their religious beliefs

Additionally, if you’ve been convicted twice of vandalism and were incarcerated at least once, you’ll be incarcerated again for up to one year.

Vandalism may seem like harmless fun, but it’s a serious crime with heavy consequences. It isn’t worth the trouble you’ll get into.

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