San Rafael Vandalism Lawyer

Aggressive Defense Against Vandalism Charges in Marin County  

California vandalism charges may be levied as either misdemeanors or felonies and carry multiple potential sentences depending on the estimated monetary cost of the damaged, defaced, or destroyed property.

Vandalism Laws in California 

Vandalism is defined by Penal Code 594 PC as any malicious activity that damages, defaces, or destroys the property of another person. The property may not be solely owned by the person charged with vandalism. The monetary value in damages, defacement, or destruction must be under $400 for a misdemeanor charge or $400 or more for a felony charge.

Although most people think of vandalism as a rowdy activity only carried out by teenagers or spray painters, other activities may qualify for vandalism charges.
For instance, an individual keying or scratching the car of another out of a petty act of revenge or deliberately lowering the vehicle's value will often qualify as vandalism. Breaking the personal property of one's spouse in front of anger or during a fight, such as smashing a plate or treasured heirloom, can also qualify.

Even relatively impersonal acts, like inscribing your name in wet cement or spray painting a landscape scene on an alley wall, count as vandalism, according to Penal Code 594 PC. 

Are you facing a vandalism charge in California? Call Chambers Defense today at (415) 423-2828 or contact us online to schedule a meeting with our vandalism attorney in San Rafael! 

Property Ownership in a Vandalism Case 

The outcomes of vandalism charges often revolve around whether the property was personally owned, particularly in cases like one of the above described: when someone breaks something inside their home out of anger during a fight.

Penal Code 594 indicates that vandalism laws apply to jointly owned property. In this instance, a husband who breaks his wife's property may be charged with vandalism even if he also technically owns whatever property he allegedly vandalized. Break the crystal punch bowl your aunt gave you both at your wedding, and you can end up behind bars.

Note that any alleged vandalism occurring on public property is presumed to occur on property not owned by the defendant. In these cases, it is assumed that the defendant did not have the consent of the public to deface, destroy, or damage the property.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Vandalism

A vandalism charge will qualify as a misdemeanor instead of a felony if the damage to the allegedly vandalized property is calculated to be less than $400.

However, if multiple alleged acts of vandalism have occurred, a jury may calculate that the acts' total monetary value, added together, total more than $400. In these cases, a prosecutor may charge the defendant with felony vandalism, even if every individual's alleged actions caused less than $400 damage.

However, remember that felony vandalism charges are not the same as convictions. A strong California vandalism defense can go a long way toward securing a lower sentence.

Many common offenses are often charged in conjunction with California vandalism. Examples include:

  • Trespassing, described by Penal Code 602 PC as entering the property of another person without their consent or the right to do so
  • Burglary, defined by Penal Code 459 PC as entering the property of another person with the intention to commit petty theft or felony inside
  • Arson, defined by Penal Code 451 PC as maliciously setting fire to the property of another person or, occasionally, your own property 

Motor Vehicle Vandalism

Motor vehicle vandalism will often be charged under different laws – most notably Vehicle Code 10853 VC. These laws ensure that all the destruction, damage, or defacement of a vehicle without the owner's consent qualifies as a misdemeanor.

Graffiti Laws in California 

In California law, graffiti is described as any inscriptions, marks, figures, words, or any other designs that are unauthorized by the property owner, which is etched, drawn, painted, or otherwise placed on personal property.

Penal Code 594 indicates that even impermanent graffiti can still “deface” property because legal defacement does not need to be permanent. Graffiti laws apply to any real or personal property – real property includes land and common attachments like homes or other buildings. In contrast, the personal property covers any other property type, including cars or furniture inside a house or building.

What are the Potential Punishments for Vandalism? 

The punishments for vandalism charges can vary dramatically based on the estimated dollar value of the property damage, extenuating circumstances, and other lesser charges. Whether a vandalism charge is filed as a felony or misdemeanor will also affect potential punishments.

Misdemeanor vandalism charges that incur property damage calculated at less than $400 will often include punishments of up to 1 year in county jail and a maximum fine of up to $1000. However, those with prior vandalism convictions may be fined up to $5000. Informal or summary probation is often included as well.

Such conditions for probation could include California driver's license suspension, community service, counseling, and possibly other sentences depending on the judge/jury.

Felony vandalism punishments often include jail sentences between 1 and 3 years. Additional fines of up to $10,000 or up to $50,000 if total vandalism damages were calculated to be worth $10,000 or more. Additional probation sentences like the ones mentioned above may also be included.

Those previously convicted of vandalism charges on at least two occasions must serve a jail or prison sentence for the current charges.

Why Hire an Attorney?

A California vandalism attorney can give you the best chance to avoid a conviction for any vandalism charge, whether a misdemeanor or felony charge. In the case of the latter charge, good vandalism lawyers can alternatively convince the prosecution to drop the charge to a misdemeanor or lower your sentence. If you've been charged with vandalism in California, contact Chambers Defense today to start your defense!

Contact Chambers Defense today to meet with our San Rafael vandalism attorney!


Common Defenses For California Vandalism Charges

Charges are not the same as proof, even if an accusation often feels like a conviction. You can defend yourself against vandalism charges in multiple ways, especially since these charges are usually levied without sufficient evidence.

Accidental Damage

Accidents happen. Because vandalism charges require the prosecution to prove that there was malicious intent involved with the destruction or damage of property, describing the damage as an accident can be an effective legal defense. Accidental damage is also relatively simple to prove – if the damage was unintentional, it cannot be malicious and, therefore, cannot qualify as vandalism.

False Accusation

California vandalism charges are sometimes levied against innocent individuals, particularly in domestic violence cases. If a spouse or significant other damages their property, then blames the vandalism on their partner, the defendant's attorney can present a wrongful arrest or false accusation defense.

Furthermore, even in "traditional" vandalism cases involving teenagers, one or another group may be singled out to "fall" for the rest of the group if they are caught. A false accusation defense can be effective, particularly in group contexts.

Mistaken Identity

If the vandalism accusation resulted from an eyewitness account or video footage, you might present a mistaken identity defense. Maybe you look like the person who vandalized property or were with them at the time of the alleged vandalizing act. Furthermore, heightened emotions and prejudice can lead to cases of mistaken identity.

For example, a property owner who believes his neighbor has a bone to pick may accuse that neighbor of vandalism when his car is keyed. A vandalism defense attorney can help you avoid a conviction with a defense like this.

Can Vandalism Charges Be Dropped?

Depending on the circumstances of the crime, vandalism charges can be dropped. Generally speaking, if a defendant can make restitution for any damage caused or take other steps that demonstrate an understanding of the severity of their actions and a willingness to learn from them, they may be able to get their charges reduced or dismissed entirely. Additionally, if the perpetrator is a minor, they may be eligible for diversionary programs that allow them to receive counseling or complete community service in exchange for having the charges dropped.

In all cases, it's essential to work with an experienced San Rafael vandalism attorney who understands the laws in California and can help you determine the best course of action. They can also make sure your rights are protected throughout the process and advise you on steps you can take to make a strong case for yourself. Ultimately, it's up to the prosecutor whether or not to drop the charges, but with careful planning and legal counsel, there is a chance that vandalism charges may be dropped in some cases.

 Contact Chambers Defense today to schedule a FREE consultation with our vandalism lawyer in San Rafael!