Graffiti is one of the fastest growing forms of art nationwide and globally. Graffiti, once thought to be solely criminal activity, now enjoys a strong following in the art world. Nevertheless, graffiti, also called tagging, is also form of vandalism when it defaces property that is not your own. While many forms and uses of graffiti constitute true art, graffiti done without consent is a crime in California. The key element that makes many instances of graffiti illegal is lack of consent from the property owner. A property owner could permit a graffiti artist to use his or her property to create a piece of art, however in many cases the property owner does not provide consent. Graffiti is a form of vandalism. Vandalism occurs when someone intentionally defaces, destroys or otherwise damages another's property. Graffiti can take the form of spray painted slogans, stickers applied, drawing or marking surfaces or engraving into a piece of property. While many forms of graffiti may be artistically meaningful, it does not take away from the fact that graffiti defaces another's property without consent. Graffiti can be done on a building, temporary structure, fence or any piece of real or personal property. Graffiti isn't just spray paint either; it can be done through drawing, etching, inscribing, scratching, applying stickers to or otherwise marking a piece of property.
The punishments for graffiti vandalism vary based on the value of the damage it causes, much like how petty and grand theft charges are structured. If the graffiti caused less than $400 in damage to the piece of property, you could face up to a year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. That fine will increase to up to $5,000 if it is your second vandalism offense. If your graffiti caused more than $400 worth of damage to a piece of property not your own, you could face up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. If your graffiti caused damage to a piece of property in excess of $10,000, you could face a fine of up to $50,000, on top of jail time. As you can see, the economic costs of a vandalism charge can be significant. Also, if you are in possession of certain instruments or tools, and had intent to use them for acts of vandalism, when you are caught vandalizing, you could face additional criminal charges for malicious mischief. Such tools could include a sharp edged object used to engrave pieces of property, an aerosol paint can or a paint marker. This offense is charged as a misdemeanor and may come with an order for community service.
On top of these penalties, a court may also order a defendant to clean or repair the property they defaced. You can also be ordered to clean up other graffiti in a specific area for a period of time, or you could be given community service. Certain jurisdictions may also assign additional clean up fees. Unfortunately, graffiti is seen as a big problem in California in particular, meaning those caught committing acts of vandalism will be prosecuted aggressively. Graffiti is seen as an eyesore for many California residents and it has been said to cause property values to decline. Sometimes, but not often, a property owner may be motivated to settle the issue outside of court, without bringing criminal charges upon the vandal. In most cases, however, graffiti is reported to the authorities, especially when the perpetrator is identified. Once reported to the police, a property owner cannot request charges be dropped against a vandal. If you are facing vandalism charges, it is important to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In some vandalism cases, there is little direct evidence to convict the defendant. You could be falsely identified as someone who was committing acts of vandalism. These cases do happen and innocent people do get charged with vandalism. To make sure you were not falsely identified and are not falsely charged with vandalism, speak to an attorney to give yourself the best chance at fighting this charge.
Are you or a loved one facing vandalism charges? DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens has over ten years experience practicing criminal defense and will fight hard for your rights. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.