If you are being accused of vandalism, it's important to understand that this is usually considered a criminal charge. Yet, vandalism and its definition varies greatly between states and municipalities, so it is important to understand your specific charges. The following guide can help better prepare you for what to expect.
What is considered vandalism?
Generally, vandalism is defined as willful destruction of property. Many things can fall under this heading, including the following:
- Graffiti, including with paint, ink, or carving
- Breaking windows
- "Keying" a car
- Knocking over lawn ornaments
- Slashing tires
- Placing stickers on public or private property
These are only examples of behavior that can be considered vandalism, so this list is by no means comprehensive.
Is there a difference between vandalism and destruction of property charges?
This depends upon state and local laws. In some states, vandalism may be considered a misdemeanor charge. It may be reserved for non-premeditated or minor destruction that is easily repaired – such as tagging or kicking over a lawn ornament. In other cases, misdemeanor vandalism charges may be based upon the amount of property damage – if it falls under a predetermined level, it won't be considered a felony.
Destruction of property may be reserved for more extensive vandalism or for premeditated crimes, such as slashing the tires and keying the car of an ex-lover. In other cases, it may be reserved for crimes that result in a higher amount of property damage costs. In these cases, the charge may be considered a felony.
There are no hard and fast rules that apply to every state, though. In some states both vandalism and destruction of property are the same crime, which may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony at the discretion of the court or charging officer.
Is it always vandalism when property is damaged or destroyed?
The act must contain certain elements to be considered vandalism or criminal destruction of property. These elements usually include the following:
Actual physical damage to the property must occur. Writing in the dust on someone's car wouldn't be vandalism, because the next rainstorm will wash it away. Painting on someone's car, on the other hand, can be considered a crime.
Someone else must own the property, or it must be public property. You cannot vandalize property you own in part or in whole.
The damage must occur without permission. If the owner of the permission gives you permission, such as to paint their fence, it isn't considered vandalism – even if they don't like the design.
The crime is done intentionally. Backing into someone's car by accident is not vandalism. Keying it or carving words into the paint is vandalism, since the intent is to harm the vehicle.
If you have been charged with vandalism, contact a criminal attorney in your area such as Larson, Latham, Huettl Attorneys.