Felony Vandalism Charge in California

When the subject of vandalism comes up, the average person pictures an unruly teenager tagging the side of a public building or a train car with graffiti. In reality, vandalism extends well beyond spray painting others’ property. Though few know it, vandalism has the potential to be a felony. If you or a family member are charged with vandalism, it is important that you are aware of the crime’s elements and also understand why it might be filed with a felony classification.

An Explanation of Vandalism

Vandalism is a word commonly used in the context of graffiti, egging homes/vehicles and breaking windows. The truth is vandalism is a broad crime applicable to everything from cracking a car’s windshield to cutting down a tree, destroying school playground equipment, snipping utility lines and beyond. Many such acts are fairly mild. However, there are some egregiously damaging forms of vandalism such as arson. The crime of arson is considered to be a form of vandalism and also a violent crime. This means it is possible to charge an individual for two distinct crimes resulting from a single action.

Breaking Down the Elements That Comprise Vandalism

Several acts of vandalism cross over into the territory of qualifying as additional crimes. Vandalism is commonly considered to be an aggravating factor in comparably serious charges. A conviction for vandalism has the potential to add to the sentence applicable to another crime. California’s Penal Code 594 defines the crime of vandalism with its own unique definition. From damaging another’s property to defacing another’s property, all sorts of acts qualify as vandalism yet most people have no idea this is the case. However, all destructive acts do not qualify as vandalism. Nuanced elements have to be present in order for a conviction to occur.

The individual in question must have had the intent to vandalize something in order for the act to qualify as vandalism. If the damage was accidental, the act is not criminal. However, there might be a legal obligation to compensate the property owner for accidental damage after a civil court hearing. Secondly, vandalism requires the element of damage. There has to be a form of damage such as destruction or defacement such as graffiti. Finally, the property that has supposedly been vandalized must be owned by an individual other than the supposed vandal.

If the elements detailed above are not present, the act will not be considered as vandalism. Keep in mind, people are sometimes charged with vandalism in unison with additional crimes.

Vandalism: Felony or Misdemeanor?

If a supposed act of vandalism results in damage that does not amount to $400, the crime will be classified as a misdemeanor. If the damage caused by the supposed vandalism is greater than $400, it is possible to be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. The circumstances of the case ultimately determine whether the act qualifies as a felony or misdemeanor. Those convicted of misdemeanor vandalism resulting in damage that is less than $400 will face upwards of a year in jail, a fine upwards of $1,000, probation and/or be forced to provide financial compensation for repairs.

An individual convicted of felonious vandalism causing damage of $400 or more will face upwards of three years in state prison, probation, a fine upwards of $10,000 and also be forced to pay for repairs. It must be noted Californians found guilty of a felony lose their rights to own and use a gun, vote while in prison/on parole and obtain public assistance through benefit programs such as food stamps.