Graffiti, once the exclusive domain of juvenile delinquents and gang members, has been elevated as an accepted form of art over the last ten or fifteen years. Many figures in the world of pop art, most notably the mysterious artist known as “Banksy”, have used graffiti as their preferred medium.
But despite graffiti’s rise as popular art form, it is still one hundred percent illegal to put graffiti on public property or private property other than you own in California.
California Vandalism Laws
Graffiti is technically classified as vandalism under California law. Vandalism prohibits you from maliciously doing any of the following:
- Defacing property with graffiti or other written material
- Damaging property
- Destroying property
Other common acts of vandalism commonly charged as juvenile crimes include things like breaking windows, destroying mailboxes, and keying cars.
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Penalties For Vandalism
The penalties for graffiti and other vandalism charges typically depend on the actual dollar value of the property that was defaced, damaged, or destroyed.
If the damage is estimated at less than four hundred dollars, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. Penalties include up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of one thousand dollars.
If the damage is estimated at more than four hundred dollars, it becomes what’s known as a “wobbler” crime – a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Felony vandalism charges carry a penalty of between one and three years in jail, along with fines of up to ten thousand dollars.
Defending Against Vandalism Charges
If you’ve been charged with vandalism, there are a few possible defenses that can get the charges reduced or dismissed entirely.
In many vandalism cases, it turns out that the person being accused:
- Damaged someone else’s property by accident
- Has been falsely accused
- Has been mistakenly identified
It’s very common, especially when the alleged crime occurred at night, for a witness to mistakenly identify a defendant.
The best course of action is to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. If you are a minor, make sure your attorney has experience defending juvenile cases.