Vandalism

WHAT MUST THE PROSCUTOR PROVE

In order to prove you guilty of the offense of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements of the offense:

  1. You damaged or destroyed property with “graffiti or other inscribed material”;
  2. You did so maliciously;
  3. The property did not belong to you.

If the cost to repair the damage on the vandalized property is less than $400.00, you will be prosecuted with a misdemeanor.  If this cost is $400.00 or more, you will be prosecuted with a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the offense.

Let’s take a closer look at the elements

You damaged or destroyed—i.e., “defaced”—property with “graffiti or other inscribed material”

Any type of unauthorized writing, scratching, or drawing on a property can mean “defacing” for purposes of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC.   There is no requirement that this defacing cause permanent damage or mark.   For example, Jill marks up the windshield of her boyfriend’s car with a lipstick.  Although the lipstick does not cause any permanent marks, Jill used the lipstick to maliciously deface her boyfriend’s property.  Jill is therefore guilty of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC.

The property did not belong to you

The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the property did not belong to you, as you cannot vandalize property that you own.  However, Penal Code section 594 PC also applies to property that you co-own with another individual.  If you vandalize that property, you can be charged with Penal Code section 594 PC.  For example, Jill in the example above uses her lipstick to mark up the windshield of a car that she co-owns with her husband.  Although the car also belongs to Jill, she is guilty of Penal Code section 594 PC vandalism.

You acted maliciously

To prove you guilty of Penal Code section 594 PC, the prosecutor must prove that you acted with malice.  You act maliciously when you intentionally commit an act that is unlawful or wrongful or when you intend to annoy or injure another person.  Thus, if you accidentally damage someone else’s property, you are not guilty of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC.

The cost of the damage to the property

In order to determine whether and act of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC should be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, the prosecution evaluates the cost to repair the damage done to the property.  If this cost is less than $400.00, the offense will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.  If this cost is $400.00 or more, the offense will be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the particular circumstances of the offense.  If you allegedly vandalized more than one property, the prosecution will consider the total value of the damage to determine whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony, so long as the prosecutor can prove that the separate acts of vandalism arose out of the same “intention, impulse, or plan.” For example, during a fight with his girlfriend Jill, Jack throws and breaks her vase.  During the same fight, he throws a bottle at her dresser, breaking her glass.  The total value of loss for both the dresser and vase is $1,500.00.  Because the separate acts of vandalism arose out of the same intent and plan—i.e., to vandalize Jill’s property—the prosecutor can add up the total value of the two items to charge Jack with a felony under Penal Code section 594 PC.

PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING PENAL CODE SECTION 594 PC

Vandalism as a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 594 PC

As previously mentioned, if the value of loss to the property is $400.00 or less, vandalism is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 594 PC.  If you are charged with a misdemeanor vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC, you face up to one year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000.00 if you have no priors for vandalism and a maximum fine of $5,000.00 if you have suffered a prior vandalism conviction, and/or informal probation.

Vandalism as a felony under Penal Code section 594 PC

As also previously mentioned, if the amount of loss to the property is $400.00 or more, then vandalism becomes a wobbler, which means that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the particulars of your case and your criminal history.  If you are charged with felony vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC, then you face a jail sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years, a fine up to $10,000.00 or $50,000.00 if the loss to the property was $10,000 or higher, and felony probation.  If you have previously suffered two vandalism convictions and were granted either probation or served a jail sentence on at least one of the convictions, then a jail sentence on your current vandalism conviction becomes mandatory.

Penalties for other types of vandalism

Defacing with Graffiti

If you are charged with a form of vandalism that involves defacing property with “graffiti” or other inscribed material, and the loss to the property is less than $250.00, then you can be charged under Penal Code sections 640.5 or 640.6 PC.  These code sections are considered a less harsh penalty scheme than that under Penal Code section 594 PC.  If you are charged under 640.5 PC or 640.6 PC as a first offender, then you will face only an infraction.  If you are charged under 640.5 PC or 640.6 PC as a second offender, then you face a misdemeanor.  If you are charged under 640.5 PC or 640.6 PC as a third offender, and you received a jail sentence or probation on at least one of your previous convictions, then you also face a misdemeanor but will be subject to harsher penalties including up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $3,000.

Vandalism of places of worship, vandalism involving caustic chemicals, and vandalism of property on or near a highway

If you vandalize a place of worship including a church, synagogue, or mosque, then you face either a felony or a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 594.3 PC.   If you are charged as a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 594.3 PC, then you face up to one year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, and summary probation.  If you are charged with felony vandalism under Penal Code section 594.3 PC, you face a 16 months, 2-year, or 3-year county jail sentence, a fine up to $10,000, and felony probation.  If your vandalism constituted a “hate crime” under Penal Code section 594.3 PC, then the charge is no longer a wobbler; you will be facing felony charges and sentencing.

If your vandalism involved caustic chemicals—such as acid—then you face a misdemeanor or a felony under Penal Code section 594.4 PC.  Vandalism under 594.4 PC as a misdemeanor subjects you to a maxim county jail time of 6 months.   If you are charged with a felony under 594.4 PC, then you face 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in county jail.

If the vandalized property was on or near a highway or freeway, then you will be charged  under Penal Code section 640.7 PC or 640.8 PC.  Under these code sections, you face up to 6 months in county jail as a first offender and up to one year as a second offender.

DEFENSES TO VANDALISM UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 594 PC

There are several defenses to a charge of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC. The particular type of defense that would apply to your case depends on the particulars of your case.

  • The property damage was an accident

A conviction for vandalism under Penal Code section 594 requires that you intended to damage the property.  If you had no such intent—i.e., if you accidentally destroyed the property—then you cannot be found guilty of vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC.

  • You were falsely accused

Perhaps a malicious ex-girlfriend or ex-wife is falsely accusing you of vandalism. Perhaps, you are being used as a scapegoat for the real culprit.  False accusations do occur.  A skilled criminal defense attorney carefully examines the motive and background of the accuser.

  • Mistaken identify—you were mistakenly identified

You may have been falsely accused because of a mistaken identify.  This could have occurred because you resembled the culprit, you knew the culprit, and/or you were with the culprit when the offense took place.

RELATED OFFENSES TO VANDALISM UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 594 PC

Damaging a phone or electric device under Penal Code section 591 PC

If you damage a phone, electric line, or utility line, then you can be charged with vandalism under Penal Code section 591 PC.  A charge under this code section is a wobbler, which means that you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the particular circumstances of your case and your criminal history.

Vandalism in connection with domestic violence charges

Vandalism sometimes occurs in the context of domestic violence, when one partner destroys the property of another during a fight.  For example, Jack gets into a heated verbal altercation with his wife Jill.  Afraid that Jack is going to attack her, Jill picks up her cell phone and threatens to call 911.  Jack slaps Jill and then grabs her cell phone and throws at the wall, breaking it.  Jack does so with the intention of preventing Jill from calling for help.  Jack can be charged with spousal battery under Penal Code section 273.5.  In addition, Jack can be charged with vandalism under Penal Code section 594 PC.  And because Jack committed the vandalism for the purpose of preventing Jill from calling for help, he may face harsher penalties.

 

Case Example

In People v. D.C. (Los Angeles Superior Court Case Number BA424664), Mr. C was accused of felony vandalism of a neighbor’s car.  The underlying facts were as follows: after a long day, Mr. C came home to find that somebody had parked an expensive Mercedes his spot.  He waited for several hours but the driver of the parked car never appeared.  Angry and frustrated, Mr. C scratched the parked car from the tip of the car on the passenger’s side all the way to the back of the car.   The scratch was very deep and caused significant to damage to the car. Unfortunately for Mr. C, the entire act was caught on video and the damage to the car was in excess of 2,000.00.  In the initial stages of the case, the prosecution wanted Mr. C to suffer a felony conviction and serve 365 days in county jail.  Negin came up with a better and more creative proposal which she successfully pitched to the assigned prosecutor:  Mr. C would make the victim whole by paying the full cost of the damage to the car, he will genuinely apologize to the victim face-to-face, and will engage in anger management and impulse control classes.  And if he fulfills these conditions and abides by the terms of his probation, he could earn a misdemeanor after 6 months.  Mr. C abided by these terms. At the end of 6 months, he earned a misdemeanor.  Negin’s diligence not only avoided jail time for Mr. C, but also gave him a chance to earn a misdemeanor in a case where neither the facts nor the law were on Mr. C’s side.

HOW THE LOS ANGELES CRIMINAL ATTORNEYS CAN HELP YOU

Negin Yamini will carefully examine the facts of your case to assert any and all possible defenses.  As with every case that she litigates, Negin takes nothing in the police report at face value.  She will conduct her own independent investigation of the alleged facts to uncover other facts that might constitute defenses to the charge or mitigating factors in your particular case.  And even if the facts as alleged are supported by overwhelming evidence against you, Negin will creatively explore options to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. Contact our Los Angeles criminal lawyer for a free consultation.

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