PC 594

Vandalism

Vandalism, CA Penal Code 594 [1], doesn’t sound like a serious crime but you might be surprised to know that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In order to be convicted of vandalism the prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime:

  1. That you maliciously defaced with graffiti or other inscribed material, damaged, or destroyed property
  2. The property did not belong to you
  3. If the amount was less than $400 than you will be charged with a misdemeanor, if the amount was more than $400 than you will be charged with a felony

If the prosecution can prove these three elements of the crime then you will be convicted of vandalism.

If you are convicted of vandalism as a misdemeanor, under $400 worth of damages, then you will face:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 fine for your first vandalism conviction
  • Up to $5,000 fine for any subsequent conviction
  • Informal probation
  • Up to a 2 year suspension on your drivers license
  • Mandatory counseling
  • Community service

If the damages are in excess of $400 and you are charged with a misdemeanor, then you will face:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • Up to $10,000 fine for your first felony conviction
  • Up to $50,000 fine if the damage was over $10,000
  • Informal probation
  • Up to a 2 year suspension on your drivers license
  • Mandatory counseling
  • Community service

If the damages are in excess of $400 and you are charged with a felony, then you will face:

  • Either up to one year in county jail and probation, or
  • Up to three years in county jail, without probation
  • If granted probation you will face:
  • Up to a 2 year suspension on your drivers license
  • Mandatory counseling
  • Community service

Prosecuting Vandalism – CA Penal Code 594

As previously mentioned, in order to be convicted of vandalism the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime:

  1. That you maliciously defaced with graffiti or other inscribed material, damaged, or destroyed property
  2. The property did not belong to you
  3. If the amount was less than $400 than you will be charged with a misdemeanor, if the amount was more than $400 than you will be charged with a felony

If the prosecutor cannot prove these elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt then you will not be convicted of vandalism.

The first element of the crime states that you maliciously defaced with graffiti other inscribed material, damaged or destroyed property. This is defined in the penal code as, “any unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark, or design that is written, marked, etched, scratch, drawn or painted on real or personal property.” Broadly, this meant to mean than if you write or draw on property using any tool then you can be convicted of vandalism. “Real” property simply means any property or anything attached to that property.

Maliciously means deliberately or on purpose. In other words, the act cannot be an accident. If you accidentally damage, deface, or destroy someone’s property then you cannot be charged with criminal vandalism, however, you might be be sued in civil court.

The second element of the crime simply means that you cannot be found guilty of vandalism if you deface, destroy or damage your own property. However, you have to own the property. Meaning the property cannot be rented, leased, etc. but must be owned by you.

Defending Vandalism Charge

Luckily there are legal defenses that your skilled criminal defense attorney can utilize in order to prove your innocence. The first approach your criminal defense attorney will take is to investigate whether the vandalism was an accident. If you, accidentally, damaged, defaced, or destroyed someone else’s property then you will not be convicted for vandalism. Acting maliciously is one of the elements of the crime so if you were simply performing an action that went wrong you cannot be charged with a crime. However, as previously mentioned, you still can be sued by the property owner in civil court to pay for the necessary repairs.

Many vandalism charges are filed against victims of mistaken identity. Some of the time it’s possible to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately be associated with a person or group of persons performing vandalism. If you are facing vandalism charges and it’s the case of mistaken identity then it’s imperative to seek the aid of an attorney. Your skilled criminal defense attorney will read the police report and discuss with witnesses regarding your whereabouts at the time of the incident. If your attorney can prove that you were wrongfully identified then the charges will be dropped.

Some vandalism charges are filed in accordance to domestic abuse charges because a jealous or revengeful partner will destroy property and then place the blame on another person. Your skilled criminal defense attorney will look investigate the victim’s character and look at their criminal record to see if they have filed charges similar to this type before. Your attorney will then challenge both the domestic abuse and vandalism charges and say that the victim actually performed the actions herself/himself.

Expunging a Vandalism Conviction – CA Penal Code 594

Having a CA Penal Code 594 conviction on your record can be a “red flag” for potential employers. It shows them that you have little respect for other people’s property and also shows that you are not necessarily trustworthy. Luckily vandalism falls under the category of crimes that can be expunged from your criminal record.

If you were sentenced with probation for a vandalism conviction then it’s possible to have the incident dismissed from your record. In order to have the crime successfully cleared from your record you will need to have successfully completed your probation term without any infractions.

For a full understanding of the process read our Expungement Article.

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References

[1] (a) Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism:
(1) Defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material.
(2) Damages.
(3) Destroys.
Whenever a person violates this subdivision with respect to real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings, or property belonging to any public entity, as defined by Section 811.2 of the Government Code, or the federal government, it shall be a permissive inference that the person neither owned the property nor had the permission of the owner to deface, damage, or destroy the property.
(b) (1) If the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is four hundred dollars ($400) or more, vandalism is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 or in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or if the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more, by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(2) (A) If the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is less than four hundred dollars ($400), vandalism is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(B) If the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is less than four hundred dollars ($400), and the defendant has been previously convicted of vandalism or affixing graffiti or other inscribed material under Section 594, 594.3, 594.4, 640.5, 640.6, or 640.7, vandalism is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(c) Upon conviction of any person under this section for acts of vandalism consisting of defacing property with graffiti or other inscribed materials, the court shall, when appropriate and feasible, in addition to any punishment imposed under subdivision (b), order the defendant to clean up, repair, or replace the damaged property himself or herself, or order the defendant, and his or her parents or guardians if the defendant is a minor, to keep the damaged property or another specified property in the community free of graffiti for up to one year. Participation of a parent or guardian is not required under this subdivision if the court deems this participation to be detrimental to the defendant, or if the parent or guardian is a single parent who must care for young children. If the court finds that graffiti cleanup is inappropriate, the court shall consider other types of community service, where feasible.
(d) If a minor is personally unable to pay a fine levied for acts prohibited by this section, the parent of that minor shall be liable for payment of the fine. A court may waive payment of the fine, or any part thereof, by the parent upon a finding of good cause.
(e) As used in this section, the term "graffiti or other inscribed material" includes any unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark, or design, that is written, marked, etched, scratched, drawn, or painted on real or personal property.
(f) The court may order any person ordered to perform community
service or graffiti removal pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision
(c) to undergo counseling.
(g) This section shall become operative on January 1, 2002.

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