According to California’s PC 594, vandalism is the act of maliciously defacing, destroying, or damaging someone’s property. Most people often-think vandalism applies in cases where minors are concerned. The offense extends to any individual who illegally writes his or her name on wet concrete in a public place or defaces another person’s property. It also applies when either a man or wife damages the property in a home during domestic violence. In California, vandalism is one of the most ardently prosecuted offenses. Vandalism charges can result in fines, probation, jail time, or juvenile detention, among others. Prosecutors often actively push for harsher sentences to punish and deter people from vandalizing private and public properties. If you are facing vandalism charges, the Orange County Criminal Lawyer can help you create a convincing defense against your charges.
Elements of Vandalism in Under PC 594
Under California’s PC 594, the legal definition of vandalism revolves around four elements. If the prosecutor accuses you of vandalism, he or she must prove that:
- You did not own the property, or you co-owned it with another.
- The value of destruction, defacement, or damage was $400 or more in a felony charge or less than $400 in a misdemeanor charge.
- You maliciously destroyed or damaged another person’s property.
- You defaced the property with graffiti or using other inscribed material.
You Did Not Own the Property, or You Own Jointly
If you vandalize a public property like a park bench, you may face charges under PC 594. Under this statute, the court has the mandate to presume that you had no legal ownership of the property, and you had no permission to destroy, damage, or deface it. You may also face the charges under PC 594 if the alleged vandalism happens on the property you own jointly with someone else. For instance, a wife or husband may face charges of vandalizing the property that they both own if one of them destroys the property due to a domestic quarrel.
The Value of Damage
If the cost to replace or repair the destroyed, damaged, or defaced property is less than $400, you may only face misdemeanor vandalism charges. The vandalism may be a wobbler under California law if the cost to replace or repair is $400 or more. The court may therefore charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony.
The offense of vandalism in California is similar to some other theft offenses. This is because the penalties are based on the amount of the property you steal or the damage you cause. If the prosecutor accuses you of one or more vandalism crimes, then all the crimes may be added together if he or she can prove that they were part of the same plan, intention, and impulse. The prosecutor may charge you with felony vandalism if the amount of damage is $400 or more. However, it is essential to note that, even if the prosecutor charges you with felony vandalism, that doesn’t mean you must face felony vandalism charges. Instead, you could face misdemeanor vandalism charges if the jury in the felony vandalism proceedings decides that you committed the crime but is not convinced that the damage amount to $400 or more.
You Acted Maliciously
Under California’s PC 594, acting in a malicious manner means:
- Acting with illegal intention to injure or annoy someone else
- Doing a wrongful act intentionally.
You don’t have to show that you intend to break the law per se. You will not be guilty of vandalism if you don’t maliciously destroy, damage, or deface someone’s property, but only do so accidentally.
Defaced With Graffiti or Other Inscribed Material
Under California law, graffiti or other inscribed material means any illegal mark, figure, word, design, or inscription that is painted, drawn, scratched, marked, or written on private or public property. To face the charges under this element, defacement with graffiti or other inscribed material doesn’t need to be permanent. For instance, you may use a marker to write your name on another person’s vehicle’s windscreen. Even though the name can be removed easily by washing the windshield, you still have written on another person’s property. You may face the charges of defacing property with graffiti or other inscribed materials under PC 594.
Other Types of Vandalism Statutes in California
Apart from California’s PC 594, other statutes prescribe various punishments on other vandalism offenses:
Vandalizing Places of Worship PC 594.3
It’s a wobbler offense under PC 594.3 for any person to vandalize a synagogue, temple, mosque, church, or building used for worship. The statute also applies to vandalism done to a facility owned and occupied by a religious education institution or any place where religious services are regularly conducted.
If you are found guilty of vandalizing a place of worship in California, you could face a misdemeanor or a felony charge. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you could face informal probation, a maximum fine of $1,000, or a sentence of up to one year in county jail. If you are charged with a felony, you could face formal probation, a fine of $10,000 maximum, or incarceration for 16 months, two, or three years. If you vandalize a place of worship to deter, show hate, or intimidate people from freely exercising their religious rights, you could face a felony charge.
Mortuary or Cemetery Vandalism PC 594.35
It’s a crime under California’s PC 594.35 for any person to vandalize a mortuary or cemetery. The act of maliciously vandalizing a mortuary or cemetery involves the following:
- Interfering, detaining, obstructing, or disturbing any person accompanying or carrying a deceased to a funeral establishment or cemetery.
- Acts of breaking, cutting, or destroying any statuary, mortuary building, or ornamentation within the cemetery limits.
- Obliterating any niche, vault, crypt, or grave
- Acts of tearing down, mutilating, or destroying any monument or a tomb in a cemetery
Caustic Chemicals Vandalism PC 594.4
It’s a crime under California’s PC 594.4 for any person to maliciously throw upon or contaminate any property with butyric acid or any other caustic chemical. It’s a wobbler under PC 594.4 to vandalize any property with caustic chemicals. You could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor chemical vandalism amounts to a sentence of six months in county jail. A felony chemical vandalism amounts to a jail term of 16 months, two, or three years. The amount of destruction is charged as follows:
- If the destruction value is $50,000 or more, you could face a fine not more than $50,000
- If the destruction value is $5,000 or more, but less than $50,000, you could face a fine of $5,000
- If the destruction value is $950 or more, but less than $5,000, you could face a fine of not more than $5,000
- If the destruction value is less than $950, you could face a fine of not more than $1,000
Highway or Freeway Vandalism PC 640.7 and PC 640.8
Any individual who vandalizes traffic signals, guard rails, snow poles, or similar facilities could face a misdemeanor charge under PC 640.7 and PC 640.8 in California. You could face a fine of $1,000 maximum, or a sentence of six months in county jail, or a penalty of both. If it’s your second vandalism conviction, you could face a fine of $1,000 maximum, or a sentence of one year in county jail, or both penalties.
Penalties for Violating PC 594
The penalties and sentencing for California vandalism crime are complicated. Under California’s PC 594, vandalism is a misdemeanor offense if the damage’s value is less than $400. Therefore, you could face informal probation, a sentence of up to one year in county jail, or a maximum fine of $1,000 or $5,000 if you have a prior conviction for vandalism. If you receive probation for vandalism under California law, there are conditions you have to meet. They include:
- You have to undergo counseling.
- You are tasked with keeping the damaged property or another property in the community graffiti free for one year.
- You have to carry out community service like replacing or repairing damaged property and personal cleaning.
- Your driving license is suspended for two years. If you don’t have one, you may be delayed for one year to obtain it.
Vandalism becomes a wobbler under PC 594 when the damaged property amounts to $400 or more. In this case, the prosecutor may charge you for felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor may base his or her decision on your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding your case. You may face misdemeanor vandalism charges under PC 594 if the value of the damage is $400 or more. This means you could face informal probation, a sentence of one year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 maximum. The penalty could extend up to $50,000 if the value of the damage amounts to $10,000 or more. You could also face felony vandalism charges under PC 594 if the cost of the damage is $400 or more. You could, therefore, face the following penalties:
- Informal probation
- Probation with a sentence of one year in a county jail
- A jail term of 16 months, two, or three years
- A maximum fine of $10,000 or $50,000 if the value of the damage amounts to $10,000 or more
If previously you had faced charges twice on vandalism, and you were granted probation or incarcerated in at least one of the cases, then in the current case, you must serve a jail term.
You will face charges if you deface another person’s property with graffiti or other inscribed material. If the cost to repair damaged property amounts to $250, you may face a less harsh penalty according to PC 640.5 and PC 640.6. This could be upon the discretion of the court. The court may also decide to charge you under PC 594 with regular misdemeanor vandalism.
If you are convicted of defacing property with graffiti or other inscribed material under PC 640.5 and 640.6, you may face the penalties based on whether it’s your first, second, or third vandalism charge. If it’s your first vandalism conviction, then your graffiti crime will be an infraction according to PC 640.5 and 640.6. You could face a fine of up to $1,000 maximum and community service.
If it’s your second vandalism conviction according to PC 594 or any other vandalism law in California, then the graffiti damage repair amounting to less than $250 could be charged as a misdemeanor. However, the penalties for misdemeanor charges according to PC 640.5 and 640.6 are less harsh than those under PC 594. Therefore, you could carry out community service, a fine of up to $2,000, or a sentence of up to six months in county jail.
If it’s your third vandalism conviction and you were given probation for at least one of those convictions or a jail term, you could face misdemeanor penalties if you are charged with graffiti amounting to less than $250 under PC 640.5 or PC 640.6. The misdemeanor penalties could include a fine of up to $3,000, community service, or a sentence of up to one year in county jail.
Defenses to Vandalism Charges
Under California law, if you are facing vandalism charges, there are legal defenses that your attorney can present on your behalf. The defenses include:
Vandalism cases in California are on the rise. The government has intensified the investigations and prosecution to deal with the vice among the perpetrators. The mounting pressure on the police to arrest and prosecute the victims leads to hasty judgments. They conduct some investigations and conclusions in a hurry. Most of the time, vandalism convictions are filed based on anonymous clues when it is true that the evidence against the victims is circumstantial. If the prosecutor proof doesn’t tie you to the vandalism crime, you could be acquitted of the charges for lack of sufficient evidence.
If the vandalism charges against you are too obvious to refute, your attorney may try to negotiate a plea bargain if every option fails. If you cannot deny the liability of a vandalism offense, plea bargains are essential, and when there are mitigating factors or many cases in the system, or if the evidence from the law enforcers is weak. The court is allowed by plea bargain to convict you and permit you to plead guilty or no contest to a reduced sentence. This happens in exchange for dismissing severe charges of vandalism.
It Was an Accident
If you don’t maliciously destroy, damage, or deface someone’s property but only do so accidentally, you are not guilty of vandalism under California law. If the prosecutor accuses you of vandalism, he or she must prove that you intentionally carried out vandalism on another person’s property. If the prosecutor fails to provide sufficient evidence that you intentionally carried out vandalism, the judge may instruct the jury to dismiss the charges against you.
California law also demands that your actions must have been malicious for charges against you to be credited. If you genuinely believe that the vandalism that took place was unintentional, you should not be held responsible for the destruction.
Mistaken Identity or False Allegations
You may be accused falsely of vandalism based on mistaken identity in California. This may happen if:
- Another person mistakenly believed that you were responsible for destroying his or her property and blamed you even if you were not involved.
- You were with more people or one person who destroyed the property, even if you did not violate the law.
- Your description matches the person who destroyed the property.
It’s common for an innocent person to be the victim of wrongful arrest or false allegations in California because vandalism frequently happens in association with domestic violence cases. Feelings such as revenge, anger, or jealousy can compel someone to make false accusations against another innocent person to gain control over him or her.
Some people often destroy their property and lay charges on their former or current partners. A person may similarly accuse falsely another person of vandalism to cover-up his or her criminal liability. An experienced defense attorney can always reveal the critical facts and get you acquitted of the charges.
Some crimes are related to vandalism. Prosecutors could add these offenses to your vandalism charges. However, your attorney will be in a position to defend you against these offenses too.
Arson PC 451
It’s a felony under California’s PC 451 for an individual to maliciously and willfully set fire to any property, forest land, or structure. If the prosecutor accuses you of arson, he or she must prove that:
- You acted maliciously and willfully.
- You set fire on the property, forest land, or structure.
The penalties under this statute depend on if a person suffered a burn injury or not and the type of property burned. If you maliciously and willfully carry out arson, you could face the following penalties:
- If the arson causes significant bodily injury, you could face a jail term of five, seven, or nine years.
- If the arson causes inhabited property or inhabited structure to burn, you could face a jail term of three, five, or eight years.
- If the malicious arson causes forestland or structure to burn, you could face a jail term of two, four, or six years.
- If the malicious arson causes personal property to burn, you could face a jail term of 16 months, two, or three years.
You may also lose your gun rights if you are convicted under PC 451. People who are convicted of a felony in California have no right to possess or acquire a gun under the law. If you are convicted of arson, you could also face negative immigration consequences. Arson is a crime of moral turpitude, and you could be marked as inadmissible or deported from the U.S if you are a non-citizen. However, you are eligible for an expungement under this statute provided that you complete your jail term and probation successfully.
Burglary PC 459
Under California’s PC 459, burglary is the act of entering another person’s residential or commercial structure intending to commit a felony or theft once inside. If the prosecutor accuses you of burglary, he or she must prove that:
- The value of the property you intended to steal or stole was more than $950
- You intended to commit theft or California felony at the time of entering the building.
- You entered a room within a building or locked vehicle.
- You entered a commercial building outside business hours.
Under California law, you are guilty of a burglary when you enter the building intending to commit petty theft, grand theft, or a felony. You don’t need to succeed in committing theft or a felony to face the charges under this statute. The penalties under this statute depend on whether you are convicted of first-degree or second-degree burglary. It’s a felony under California law if any person commits a first-degree burglary. You could face a fine of $10,000, a sentence of two, four, or six years in state prison, or formal felony probation.
It’s a wobbler under California’s PC 459 to commit second-degree burglary. You could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor. A felony second-degree burglary’s penalties include a fine of $10,000, felony probation, or a sentence of 16 months, two, or three years in county jail. If you are charged with misdemeanor second-degree burglary, you could face a fine of $1,000, a sentence of one year in county jail, or summary misdemeanor probation.
Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me
You should not take an accusation of vandalism lightly. A conviction of vandalism under California law could have detrimental consequences. You may end up paying hefty fines and serving jail time. It’s advisable to contact an attorney immediately if the prosecutor accuses you of vandalism. This will give the attorney ample time to investigate your case and gather the necessary evidence to defend you. If you are facing vandalism charges, the Orange County Criminal Lawyer can help you create a convincing defense to fight the charges. Contact us at 714-262-4833 and speak to one of our attorneys.