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What is the crime of vandalism in California in 2024

In California, vandalism is a crime established in Penal Code 594 CP. It is typified as one of the crimes against property, public or private, and consists of:

  • Painting graffiti, stain or write on walls, cars or any other surface.
  • Damage or destroy property.

This crime includes not only damage in public places, but also inside a house or office. Vandalism is punishable by imprisonment and heavy fines.

What are the penalties for a vandalism charge?

In California, the crime of vandalism is punished according to the value of the property damaged or destroyed. Damages of $400 or more are penalized as a wobbler. That is, as a felony or misdemeanor. 

The penalties for vandalism as a felony carry:

  • Imprisonment of between one and three years in the county jail and/or
  • Fine of $10,000 or more, depending on damages.
  • Formal probation.
  • Restitution of the damaged property or payments.
  • Community Services.
crime of vandalism 594 pc

If qualified as a misdemeanor:

  • Fine of up to $1,000. 
  • Up to one year in jail; me
  • 3 years of informal probation.
  • Community Services.
  • Payments or restitution of the damaged property.

Note. Even if the damages are worth less than $400, vandalism could still carry a similar penalty. 

A conviction for vandalism a second time, after having been put in jail or paroled for at least one time, carries a mandatory prison sentence.

Graffiti Vandalism

If the damage is caused by graphite and is less than $250, charges under Penal Code 640.5 PC / 640.6 PC may be assessed.

  • Vandalism charge for the first time. It is recorded as a violation and is punishable by community service hours and fines of up to $1,000.
  • Vandalism charge for the second time. If the damage is less than $250 it is classified as a misdemeanor. The punishment could be:
    • Up to 6 months in prison in the county jail.
    • Fine of up to $2,000.
    • Community service.
  • Three or more convictions. When damages are less than $250, but the defendant has two prior convictions including prison or probation, the vandalism charge is punishable as a misdemeanor with:
    • 1 year in prison in the county jail.
    • Maximum fine of $3,000.
    • Community service.
graffiti vandalism in california

Is vandalism a strike in California?

Yes. California law considers vandalism a strike. Therefore, it has effects and consequences related to the California law of three strikes. Whether the conviction for this crime was committed in or out of state. 

Even in cases where the state where the crime was prosecuted on does not consider vandalism a strike. Also, if the conviction was expunged or cleared from the defendant’s criminal record.

Other types of vandalism

Vandalism involves damage to other places and public or private property such as: 

criminal threats in california

You may also be interested in reading our article on criminal threats in California.

What possible legal defenses can be invoked?

The most experienced criminal defense attorneys always have a strategy to help the client. The defendant’s defense will serve to achieve their acquittal by dismissing charges or reducing the sentence.

The most common defenses in these cases include the following arguments:

  • The property of the other person or entity was damaged by accident. 
  • Client was falsely accused; or
  • They are the victim of an identification error.
  • The damaged property belonged to the defendant.
  • There is not enough evidence that the defendant was at fault for the damages.

How is vandalism proved in California?

To prove the crime of vandalism, the prosecution must establish the following elements against the accused:

  • They acted maliciously using “graphite or other material” and damaged or destroyed property.
  • They did not own the property, that is, the affected or damaged property turned out to be someone else’s property. 
  • The value of the damaged or destroyed property was:
    • Less than $400 which constitutes a misdemeanor, or 
    • It is worth $400 or more and should be punished as a felony.

In certain circumstances, if a person is found with tools or materials to cause vandalism, they will be prosecuted for this offense as well. This is established by section 594.2 of the California Penal Code.

Crimes related to vandalism

Vandalism is often accompanied by other crimes such as:

penalty of perjury in california

Do you know what the crime and penalty for perjury is in California? We tell you in detail in our blog dedicated to the subject.

How is domestic assault related to the crime of vandalism?

Often domestic violence also involves damage to the property of relatives or people who cohabit with the aggressor. In these cases, the prosecution usually charges for the crime of vandalism and domestic violence.

How long can you be sentenced for vandalism in California?

As previously stated, California vandalism laws impose penalties based on the value of the property destroyed or damaged. Jail time for a felony vandalism charge is one to three years.

If you are charged for misdemeanor and receive informal probation instead of jail, then you could also:

  • Have your driver’s license suspended for up to 2 years. If you do not have a license, your right to obtain it will be delayed by 1 to 3 years.
  • Comply with mandatory counseling and community service.
  • Monitor damaged property and other properties where you live to ensure they are not vandalized.

What is an act of vandalism?

Vandalism includes a series of damages intentionally caused by a person. Here are some examples of this crime: 

  • Scratch the paint of a car with a key or a knife.
  • Spray paint on a wall, a car, a statue, or any other property.
  • Throwing eggs into a car or house window.
  • Break the windows of a house or car.
  • Break the mirrors or puncture the tires of a car.
  • Paint graffiti or damage walls, cars or statues.
  • Destroy the seats of an airplane or train.
  • Destroying shop windows or ripping out cobblestones from streets during a protest.
  • Break, scratch or knock down traffic signs.
  • Destroy tables, plates, chairs, pictures or any valuable object in a third party’s home or business establishment.
  • Damage church walls or property.
  • Damage mailboxes or fire hydrants.
  • Sign or place symbols on wet concrete of a sidewalk.
  • Hacking and deconfiguring a web page of another person, institution or company.
types of vandalism in los angeles

10 consequences of vandalism

Vandalism is a crime that also has legal, economic, social and family related consequences. People, usually young people, who commit this crime not only go to jail, they must also pay fines. 

The latter end up being done by their parents. As part of the penalties imposed by law, these are some of the consequences: 

  1. Carry out community service activities and tasks.
  2. Internment or periodic assistance in medical centers to carry out therapeutic treatment.
  3. Ruptures or isolation of the family nucleus.
  4. Loss of studies during the time of deprivation of liberty. 
  5. Suspension of the driver’s license or the right to possess it.
  6. Payment of fines.
  7. Prison time.
  8. Injuries or death due to fights in the street.
  9. Serious damage to the person’s reputation.
  10. Prohibition of entry to certain places (clubs, educational institutions, churches and others).

Can I lose my driver’s license if I am accused of vandalism?

Yes. Remember that this is one of the accessory penalties that the judge can impose depending on the crime judged. If the damage was deliberately caused by a drunk driver (DUI offense in Los Angeles), that is most likely. 

Likewise, if the driver is a minor or the defendant’s parole is being negotiated. If so, the court could order the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to :

  • Suspend driver’s license; or
  • Delay its issuance for one or two years. 

What do I do if I am charged with a vandalism charge?

The first thing you should do is find a competent criminal attorney to defend you. The Los Angeles criminal lawyers at Lluis Law are always ready to take on the defense of a defendant. 

Since it is a serious crime, you should find the best lawyer to defend you. Only then can you guarantee that your rights will be aggressively defended with a high chance of obtaining the best results. 

After analyzing your case, our experienced attorneys can: 

  • Get the charges dismissed; or 
  • Negotiate with the prosecution for a lesser charge after a plea agreement;
  • Reduce sentence.

Now you know what the crime of vandalism is in Los Angeles and the rest of California. If you were charged with vandalism and are in need of an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side, just give us a call. We have over 50 years of combined experience litigating these and other criminal matters. We are one of the most successful criminal law firms in Los Angeles, California.


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