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Why Is My Vandalism Charge a Felony?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on October 22, 2020

When people hear the word “vandalism,” they usually think of a teen with a bottle of spray paint tagging a building. Typical teenage behavior, right? Well, the truth is that vandalism can go far beyond graffiti. In fact, a charge of vandalism may carry the added weight of a felony. If you or your loved one has been charged with vandalism, it is crucial that you understand the elements of the crime and why it may be filed as a felony. Not only can this information help you plan an effective defense with your attorney, but it can also help prepare you for what comes next.

What is Vandalism?

Vandalism is most often used in conjunction with graffiti, broken windows, or throwing eggs at cars. However, this crime covers a much wider sphere of activity, much of it far more destructive than what the average rebellious teen may get up to. Acts of vandalism can include:

  • Breaking the windshield of a car
  • Destroying playground equipment at a school
  • Cutting down trees without proper permission
  • Acts of arson
  • Defacing or destroying street signs
  • Cutting power lines

While there are plenty of mild acts of vandalism, there are also incredibly extreme forms of vandalism. Arson, for example, is considered a vandalism crime and a violent crime, meaning you can be charged with two crimes for a single act.

The Elements of Vandalism

There are actually a lot of acts of vandalism that can, and often do, cross over into other crimes. Vandalism is often an aggravating factor in other, more serious charges, and a vandalism conviction could extend a sentence from another crime. That being said, the crime of vandalism has its own legal definition under California Penal Code 594, which can include defacing or damaging property that you do not own. But not every act of destruction is actually vandalism, and the crime has specific elements that must be present for a conviction:

  • Intention: For an act to be considered vandalism, it must be intentional. Accidental damage to someone else’s property is not criminal, though you may be legally obligated to compensate the owner for these damages in civil court.
  • Damage: Vandalism must include some form of damage, which may include defacement (graffiti or any other inscription) or destruction.
  • Ownership: The property must be owned by someone other than yourself.

If any of these elements are not present, the act is not vandalism under the law. However, remember that that is just for the crime of vandalism itself. Again, people are often charged with vandalism in conjunction with other crimes, such as carjacking, so will need to beat multiple charges in a single case.

Vandalism: Misdemeanor vs. Felony

If the value of the damage is less than $400, the crime will be filed as a misdemeanor. If the value of the damage is $400 or more, you may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. If you are convicted of misdemeanor vandalism with damage less than $400, you face:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000 (this can be increased to as high as $5,000 if you a prior vandalism conviction on your record)
  • Probation, which can include a driver’s license suspension
  • Compensation to repair the damage caused
  • All of the above

If you are convicted of felony vandalism for damage of $400 or greater, you face:

  • Up to three years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000, or up to $50,000 if the value of the damage was $10,000 or more
  • Probation
  • Compensation to repair the damage caused
  • All of the above

On top of the longer sentence, felons in California lose certain rights that most citizen takes for granted. As a felon, you may not be allowed to own or use a firearm, benefit from public assistance programs, or even vote while in prison or on parole. This essentially means that you will continue to pay for your crime long after you served your sentence. That is why beating a felony vandalism charge, as well as any of the crimes you are also being accused of, is of the utmost importance.

If you or a loved one is facing charges of a serious felony crime, you must engage legal counsel immediately. Our talented, experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP have an impressive track record in achieving positive results for our clients who are facing felony charges. Every move you make after an arrest can affect the outcome of your case. Exercise your right to remain silent and call us at (213) 688-0460 to schedule a consultation. We are on your side.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense