Vandalism and graffiti are crimes nearly everyone has committed at one point or another —whether it involves scratching your initials into a desk in high school, doodling on a bus poster, or something more drastic like spray painting your name across a wall. But just because these acts are common doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take any charges resulting from these activities lightly. Both graffiti and intentional property destruction are filed under the same vandalism law in California, Penal Code 594 (PC). If you have been accused of vandalism in San Diego County, please contact criminal defense lawyer Peter M. Liss as soon as possible to discuss the best defense strategy for your case.
How Does California Define Vandalism?
In California, vandalism, sometimes called “criminal mischief,” isn’t limited to graffiti, although that’s one of the most common types. Anyone who has purposefully damaged or destroyed another person’s real or personal property can be charged under Penal Code 594 (PC). Examples of acts that could result in someone facing vandalism charges in California include:
- keying someone’s car
- breaking a store window
- knocking over a gravestone
- defacing a movie theater poster
- spraypainting a mural without the property owner’s permission
- using a marker to write your name on a bus seat
- smashing your ex’s television
You can also face vandalism charges for damaging property during a hit and run.
Damaging property in a home you share with a spouse or other romantic partner will be treated as domestic violence vandalism if it involves community property. While it is always a good idea to work with a skilled vandalism defense attorney if you are facing charges related to property destruction, this specific type of vandalism charge requires a professional experienced in fighting both domestic violence and property damage allegations in San Diego.
Is Graffiti or Property Destruction a Felony in California?
It can be, as 594 (PC) is considered a wobbler, meaning it is punishable as a felony or misdemeanor. If the damage costs under $400 to fix, you will typically only be charged with a misdemeanor. If the repairs cost over $400, you will be charged with a felony.
What are the Penalties for 594 (PC)?
As a misdemeanor, vandalism is punishable by up to one year in county jail, fines, community service, and up to 3 years of probation. Felony vandalism convictions may result in jail or prison time, up to $10,000 in fines, and community service. No matter how serious the allegations, you may be required to pay restitution to the victim and a one-year suspension of your driver’s license.
In some cases, the prosecution may push for sentencing enhancements if they believe the act was a hate crime, gang-related activity, or act of domestic violence. If someone is convicted of a vandalism charge along with a hate crime, the offense will become a felony if it was charged as a misdemeanor, and if it was a felony, 1-3 years could be added to the sentence.
When a vandalism charge is found to be a gang crime, those convicted of a misdemeanor will be required to serve at least 180 days in jail, and those convicted of a felony could have up to 4 years added to their sentence. Additionally, felony gang crimes count as strikes under California’s three strikes rule.
As a domestic violence charge, those convicted of vandalism charges will need to undergo a year-long batterer’s class and will usually be subject to a restraining order to keep them away from the victim.
Vandalism Charges for Minors in California
As one of the most common crimes committed by minors, it is a good idea to look at the potential penalties for those accused of this crime before they turn 18. Generally, juvenile courts are designed to reform and not punish, so most minors charged with this offense will be eligible to enter a diversion program. In some cases, judges may require them to undergo probation, offer the victim restitution, perform community service, and postpone or lose their driving privileges for a year.
Teens will typically not be sent to juvenile detention centers for vandalism crimes unless the offense involved particularly expensive property or the minor has a prior offense on their record. If your son or daughter has been accused of criminal mischief in San Diego, please contact a criminal defense attorney experienced with the juvenile court system of California.
Defenses to 594 (PC)
There are many ways to fight these charges, but the right approach for each case varies, so always speak with your attorney before attempting to defend yourself. Sometimes the best solution is to negotiate a plea bargain to minimize the charges or sentencing you will face. If the value of damaged property is just over $400, it is very likely your lawyer will be able to have the charges reduced to a misdemeanor.
If you choose to fight the charges, you can argue that their is insufficient proof that you committed the crime, that you were the victim of mistaken identity, or that you are the rightul owner of the property. Alternatively, you may agree that you damaged someone else’s property but did so on accident.
Can Vandalism Charges be Dropped?
Sometimes these cases may not go forward if the property owner tells the prosecution they do not wish to press charges. Ultimately, the decision on whether to drop graffiti and property destruction charges is up to the District Attorney, but you have the greatest chance of having this happen if your lawyer works directly with the victim to allow you to repair or pay for the damage. If the property has been fixed or replaced before the DA files charges and the victim states they do not wish to press charges, the case will likely be dropped.
If you have been charged with vandalism in San Diego County, please call attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.