Can Vandalism Be a Felony Offense in California?

Vandalism seems so common, especially when you’ve driven through some of the more populated areas of California. Oakland, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, and many other areas are riddled with graffiti, boarded-up businesses, and more. However, many commonplace vandalism charges are felony offenses. It’s difficult to realize how accidentally damaging property can lead to a felony charge and the possibility of being branded a felon for life.

Am I Facing A Felony or Misdemeanor?

In California, vandalism can go both ways. It has the potential to be a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The charges involved will depend on the situation, extent of the damage, and possibly even the intent. What’s largely unfair is that the crime becomes a felony after only $400 of damage. Many people end up within the California court system for breaking only a few objects, unintentionally. Keying someone’s vehicle, or unintentionally hitting it with a shopping cart can easily cause $400 in damage. 

When you bring in an attorney, you might not only want to focus on creating a strong defense but also on lessening the charge. Throwing eggs at a house shouldn’t be a felony. However, many Californian residents have faced felony charges for something that minor.

Possible Punishments

There is a significant gap between the possible punishments for Misdemeanor charges and felony charges. For a felony vandalism conviction, someone could face between one and three years in jail as well as fines going up to about $10,000. Of course, that doesn’t include other sentencing elements such as restitution, where the court may require the person to pay back the value of the damaged property. 

But when it comes to a misdemeanor charge, you won’t face anything more than $1000 fine and the maybe a year in jail. Of course, most misdemeanor charges where the accused is found guilty don’t result in jail time, but instead in probation or community service.

Common Defenses for Vandalism Charges

One common defense is that you were falsely accused or not the person involved. California courts have seen this time and time again. There’s a video of vandalization that contains a blurry image of a man in a hoodie and face cover, then you’re charged. How could they know if that was you or not? What is their basis for deciding that the blurry image is you and not someone else of a similar height or weight?

Another defense is that the damage was accidental. For example, if there was a car accident that led to building damage, that should not count as possible vandalism as you clearly didn’t intend to cause any damage.

Vandalism can quickly become a serious charge that you may need extensive support to battle against. The defenses that we’ve covered here for a felony vandalism charge don’t exclusively protect you from a conviction. Instead, they serve as an opportunity to obtain an innocent determination or a lesser charge with reduced sentencing. A strong defense is the best opportunity to create a better legal situation than your current predicament.

Explore the California statute on vandalism.