Many people are quick to assume that vandalism is a minor criminal offense. However, you might get more than a slap on the wrist if you are found guilty.
With that in mind, there are many rules and regulations against vandalism. However, there are six primary things you should know about vandalism laws if you are facing criminal charges.
1. How Vandalism Is Defined in CA
California law under California Penal Code 594 states that vandalism involves the malicious defacement of private or public property. The elements of the offense include:
- The defendant must have damaged or destroyed property through inscribed material or graffiti.
- The defendant must not have owned or co-owned the property.
- The value of the damage or defacement was less than $400 for a misdemeanor or more than $400 for a felony.
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2. The Criminal Penalties of a Vandalism Conviction
The criminal penalties you can face if you are found guilty of vandalism vary widely. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor-level offense, you could expect to spend up to one year in California county jail and pay up to $5,000 in fines if you have a prior vandalism conviction. You could also be placed on informal probation and have your driver’s license suspended for up to two years.
If you are convicted of a felony-level vandalism offense, the penalties could be more severe. You might spend up to one year in county jail, but fines could reach as much as $50,000 if the property damage was valued at $10,000 or more. Additionally, you could be placed on probation, be required to complete community service hours, and attend mental health counseling or group therapy.
If you are charged with a lesser offense, such as graffiti with damage valued at less than $250, you might be able to avoid a conviction and instead pay a $1,000 fine and complete community service hours. Alternatively, if you were accused of vandalizing a place of worship under California Penal Code 594.3, you could pay fines as high as $10,000 and spend up to three years in a California state prison if convicted at the felony level.
3. Juvenile Vandalism Cases Are Handled Differently
Juveniles are some of the most common parties arrested and charged with vandalism. Often, by working with law enforcement and police, juvenile offenders may be able to avoid being processed in the California juvenile court system by entering a plea agreement, agreeing to complete community service, or being placed on probation.
Other juveniles may be required to complete community service, cover the cost of repairing property damage, and fulfill other terms. If your child was arrested for vandalism, it is crucial to obtain a criminal defense attorney who can help protect their future.
4. Vandalism Convictions Can Be Expunged
A vandalism conviction may initially seem devastating. However, the good news is, vandalism convictions may be eligible for expungement, depending on the specific details of your case. If you are sentenced to probation for a misdemeanor or felony-level vandalism charge, you can qualify for expunction after completing the terms of your probation.
However, you should be prepared to have your expungement petition denied if you receive any probation violations or fail to follow the terms of your probation. Your vandalism attorney will work to get felony-level charges reduced to misdemeanor offenses, so expungement is a possibility after you complete the duration of your sentence.
If you are actively fulfilling the terms of your probation, it is also possible to get your probation time terminated early for good behavior. This way, you can get your record expunged more quickly to move forward with your life.
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5. There Are Crimes Related to Vandalism
You might be surprised to learn that there are other crimes you could be charged with in addition to your vandalism offense. Some of the most common crimes charged in connection with vandalism in California include:
- Burglary under California Penal Code 459 – This is generally charged as a felony, punishable by up to six years in a California state prison.
- Criminal trespassing under California Penal Code 602 – This is generally tried as a misdemeanor, so you could expect to spend up to one year in county jail if convicted.
- Arson under California Penal Code 451 – This is generally considered a felony offense, and penalties will be based on whether you have a prior criminal record, whether anyone was injured, the type of property set on fire, and whether the fire was set recklessly or willfully.
You could also face criminal street gang enhancement penalties under California Penal Code 186.22. Here, you could get additional penalties on top of the penalties associated with your vandalism or other related charges. For example, if you are convicted of vandalism, you might get an extra year of jail time added to your sentence as a criminal street gang enhancement.
6. You Have Multiple Defense Options
You do not need to plead guilty to vandalism. You can work out a plea agreement with the prosecuting attorney, enter a pretrial diversion program, or even prepare a powerful defense to be presented at trial. Some of the top defenses used to challenge vandalism allegations include:
- Wrongful arrest
- Improper witness identification
- False accusations
- Mistaken identity
- Accidental vandalism
- Unlawfully obtained evidence
- Illegal search and seizure
- Police or prosecutorial misconduct
Get Help from a Los Angeles Vandalism Attorney Today
Have you or your minor child been charged with vandalism? The penalties of a conviction could haunt you and destroy your child’s future. Please take steps to protect them when you get help from an experienced Los Angeles vandalism attorney at the Simmrin Law Group.
Our firm has the legal experience to help you craft a powerful defense or get the charges against you or your child reduced to a lesser offense or dismissed altogether. Learn more about which legal options are most suited for your case when you contact our team for a confidential consultation. You can reach us through our convenient contact form or phone to get started today.