Vandalism is defined as the intentional destruction of personal or real property. California law distinguishes whether the offense will be regarded as a misdemeanor or a felony based upon the monetary value of the damage. For destruction of four hundred dollars or more, the statute make the act a felony, if the damage caused is less than $400 than the conduct will be treated as a misdemeanor. As a local criminal defense lawyer, Matthew Ruff has seen hundreds of vandalism cases over the course of his career. What is important to understand is that this particular type of offense is regarded as criminal and if the case goes to Court and a conviction culminates, the person's permanent record will be forever impacted. Therefore, vandalism charges should be defended by an attorney familiar with the nuances and fine points of the crime.
Most acts of alleged vandalism are prosecuted by a special team of prosecutors within the District Attorneys Office. Special circumstances in any given case could result in additional enhancements incorporated within the formal complaint. For example, when the conduct involves suspected gang members, the police will usually request that a street gang enhancement be charged. This can usually be seen in cases of graffiti. Moreover, when the damage is related to a domestic dispute, the investigators will typically seek special allegations of domestic violence which could require a more severe sentence if the charges result in a conviction. In cases where the property damage exceeds five thousand dollars, special statutes in the Penal Code may be triggered which mandate minimum jail time or state prison.
Penal Code section 594 is the general statute that governs vandalism laws in California. The main mental state required in the law is that of maliciousness, it is this malice element that differentiates the crime from others that criminalize destruction of property. The relevant sections of the statute is set forth as follows:
(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.
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, this dollar amount does not include penalty assessments which could triple or quadruple the total amount of the fine) or more, vandalism is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison 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.
One very interesting case involved the interpretation of vandalism as it pertains to the property belonging to husband and wife, the California Court held that a conviction for vandalism was proper after defendant caused more than $15,000 in damage to his wife's house and belongings. The court embraced the emerging rule imposing criminal liability on a spouse for intentionally causing harm to property in which the other spouse had an interest, whether the property was individual or marital, and whether the harm occurred outside or inside the marital home.
Another important point about a criminal vandalism charge in California is that if the person is convicted it goes down on individual's driving record. It will remain on a driver's DMV redord for a minimum of 7 years, and if the accused is under 21 it could result in a license suspension. Always consult a lawyer before pleading guilty or no contest to any PC594.
The important thing to remember when dealing with the crime of vandalism or any other serious criminal offense is that the District Attorney is on the side of the government, you need a advocate on your side to help level the playing field in Court. Serving Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa, Manhattan, Palos Verdes, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Long Beach and all Courts in Los Angeles County. Matthew Ruff has been involved in hundreds of cases where vandalism was alleged and he has always been able to favorably resolve the case to his client's satisfaction.