Property Damage

Property crimes are offenses that involve the destruction of other people's property. They range from minor offenses to major crimes that attract severe penalties. If you are accused of any type of property crime, having a seasoned lawyer may mean the difference between your freedom and serving a prison sentence. The outcome of your case is highly dependent on whom you choose to represent you.

With our extensive experience, our attorneys at Leah Legal will defend you aggressively. We aim to defend you, protect your rights and possibly have your charges reduced if it’s not possible to get your case dismissed. We will utilize our expertise to represent people battling criminal cases in Los Angeles, California.

Property Crimes Under California Law

California’s Penal Code outlines different categories of property crimes. Each property crime is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under a specific section of the Penal Code.

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Arson

Actions that constitute arson are described in two separate sections of the California Penal Code.

Section 451: You will be charged with arson if you maliciously or willfully set fire to, burn, trigger, assist, procure or counsel the act of burning any property, forest land or structure. To charge you with malicious arson, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  1. You burned or set fire to property, forest land or structure

You will have committed the crime of arson if you destroy or damage even a small part of the object with fire.

A structure includes a building, tunnel, bridge, power plant or a public or commercial tent. Forest land refers to woods, grasslands, forest, cut-over or brush-covered land. Property refers to personal property like furniture, boats, cars, clothing or land other than forest land.

Burning is only a crime if the object burned is someone else’s personal property. If the property is yours, you can only be charged with arson if you:

  • Burned the property with an intention to defraud
  • Injured another person or their property
  1. You acted maliciously and willfully

You are guilty of malicious arson if you deliberately act with a plan to annoy, defraud or injure someone else or their property. The element of will and malice can be satisfied if you were aware of the facts that would make a reasonable person realize that their actions would naturally, directly or most probably cause a fire.

Section 452 is California’s statute on reckless arson or reckless burning. You would be charged under this code if you did not cause the fire intentionally. The elements of this crime are:

  1. You burned or set fire to property, forest land or a structure
  2. Your action was reckless. Recklessness is acting in total disregard for safety and can be proved if you:
    • were aware that your action had a significant and unjustifiable risk of igniting a fire,
    • ignored the risk, or
    • acted in total deviation from how any reasonable person would behave under similar circumstances.

Penalties for Arson

After you are convicted of any crime of arson, the judge may order that you undergo a psychiatric evaluation to help decide the length of your prison or jail sentence.

Penalties for arson vary depending on:

  • Whether your conviction is for reckless or malicious arson
  • The type of property that you destroyed
  • Whether anybody was injured in the fire
  • Your criminal history

Malicious arson is a felony punishable by imprisonment in state prison for:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years for personal property
  • 2, 4 or 6 years for forest land or a structure
  • 3, 5 or 8 years for causing the burning of an inhabited property or inhabited structure
  • 5, 7 or 9 years for causing significant bodily injury

You may also face:

  • A fine not exceeding $10,000
  • A “strike” in your criminal record as provided by California’s Three Strikes Law.
  • If your action was for financial gain, you may face an additional $50,000 fine or double your anticipated or actual profit.

Reckless burning or reckless arson is a misdemeanor. The penalties include:

  • Not more than 6 months in a county jail
  • A fine not greater than $1,000
  • Both

If you burned a forest land or a structure or caused serious bodily injury, your reckless arson offense becomes a wobbler. A wobbler means that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. The possible punishments are:

  • Burning forest land or a structure
    • Misdemeanor: A maximum of 6 months in a county jail
    • Felony: 16 months, 2 or 3 years in prison
  • Burning inhabited property or an inhabited structure
    • Misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in a county jail
    • Felony: 2, 3 or 4 years in prison
  • Causing considerable bodily injury:
    • Misdemeanor: Not more than 1 year in a county jail
    • Felony: 2, 4 or 6 years in prison

Aggravated Arson

Under California law, you will be sentenced to an extra, consecutive 1 – 5 years prison term for aggravated arson if:

  • You have a previous felony conviction for reckless or malicious arson.
  • An officer, firefighter or emergency personnel suffer substantial or significant bodily injury from the fire.
  • More than 1 person suffers considerable bodily injury from the fire.
  • You burn multiple structures.
  • While committing the crime, you accelerate or delay the ignition of the fire using a device.
  • Burn a structure in retaliation against someone whom you believed is the owner of the structure.
  • You were aware that you were setting fire to a place of worship.

You would be sentenced to serve 10 years in prison if you intended to damage an inhabited structure or injure other people and

  • you had a previous conviction of arson within 10 years,
  • the fire caused losses totaling to more than $5,650,000 including the costs of suppressing the fire, or
  • at least five inhabited structures were damaged.

Registration as an Arson Offender

California law requires you to register as a convicted arson offender after your conviction for any of the following:

  • Malicious arson
  • Aggravated arson leading to more than 10 years in prison
  • Possession, manufacture or disposal of combustible or flammable material or device in relation to your arson charges
  • Attempted malicious arson

Damaging Utility, Phone or Electrical Lines

You will have committed a crime under California Penal Code 591 if you maliciously remove, disconnect, obstruct or injure wires for electrical, cable or telephone services or any equipment linked to those wires. This crime is more serious than vandalism. Penal Code 591 will most likely be used to charge you if you damage phone equipment or cut phone lines while committing burglary or in an episode of domestic violence. Interfering with phone lines or equipment to prevent another person from receiving help can also result in a violation of Section 591.5 of the Penal Code.

You are guilty of damaging utility, phone or electrical wires if you

  • Maliciously and unlawfully
  • Disconnect, obstruct, cut, take down, remove or injure
  • An electrical, telephone, telegraph, cable television or any equipment served by or connected to such a line, or
  • Maliciously connect an electrical line without authorization

You can only be convicted of this crime if you acted maliciously. Acting with malice is when you act purposely to commit an offense or to injure someone else.

Penalties for Damaging Utility, Phone or Electrical Lines

This crime is a wobbler. You will be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the nature of your charges and your criminal history.

For a misdemeanor, you will receive:

  • Summary probation
  • Not more than 1 year in a county jail
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000
  • Both a fine and jail time

For a felony, the possible penalties are:

  • Formal probation
  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in a county jail
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Both jail time and a fine

Vandalism

You will be charged with and convicted of vandalism under Section 594 of the California Penal Code if the prosecutor can prove that:

  1. You maliciously destroyed, damaged or defaced property with any inscribed material or graffiti. Acting with malice means that you intentionally committed a wrongful act with the aim of injuring or annoying someone. If your actions were accidental, you are not guilty of vandalism. Inscribed material or graffiti refers to any unauthorized design, figure, mark or word that is painted, drawn, etched, scratched or marked on personal or real property. Basically, any unauthorized drawing or writing on another person’s property qualifies as vandalism. The mark does not necessarily have to be permanent.
  2. You either owned the property with someone else or did not own it. If you vandalized public property, the judge could assume that you did not own and neither were you permitted to destroy, damage or deface the property. You can also be charged with vandalism if you deface, destroy or damage property that you jointly own with your spouse.
  3. The amount of destruction, damage or defacement was either less than $400 for misdemeanor charges, or $400 and above for a wobbler.  If you are charged with multiple acts of vandalism and the prosecutor proves that they were all part of a single plan, impulse or intention, they will be combined and charged as a felony if the damage totals to $400 or greater.

Penalties for Vandalism

Several sections of the California Penal Code outline the punishments for vandalism based on the type of property that you vandalize. In addition to the specific penalties, CA Vehicle Code 13202.6 allows a possible suspension of your driver’s license for up to 2 years. If you do not have a license, issuance will be delayed for between 1 – 3 years.

Section 594.3: Vandalizing a place of worship. This crime is a wobbler regardless of the value of damages.

As a misdemeanor, the possible consequences are:

  • A county jail term of up to 1 year
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Probation

As a felony, you face:

  • Imprisonment for 16 months, 2 years or 3 years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000
  • Probation

If your act of vandalism was meant to intimidate or scare a victim based on their religious beliefs, the offense becomes a hate crime and an automatic felony.

Section 594.35: Vandalism of a mortuary or cemetery: The penalties are similar to those of vandalizing a place of worship.

Section 594.4: Vandalism involving chemicals: Vandalism using butyric acid or any related caustic or noxious substance or chemical is a wobbler regardless of the value of damages.

As a misdemeanor, the possible penalties are:

  • Time in a county jail for up to 6 months
  • Between $1,000 and $50,000 in fines depending on the value of damages
  • Probation

As a felony, it is punishable by:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in prison
  • Fines ranging between $1,000 and $50,000 depending on total damages
  • Probation

Section 640.7: Vandalism near or on a highway: This code criminalizes vandalism within 100 feet of a highway including but not limited to highway accessories and facilities such as traffic signals, signs, guardrails and snow poles, but excluding street name signs.

A crime under this code is a misdemeanor. The consequences are:

  • Up to 6 months in a county jail for your first conviction and 1 year for a second conviction.
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Community service or counseling

Section 640.8: Vandalism near or on a freeway: Vandalism of freeway facilities such as, but not limited to overpass supports, overpasses, guardrails, signals, and signs is a misdemeanor under this statute punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in jail for a first conviction
  • A fine not greater than $5,000
  • Community service or counseling

Trespass

Section 602 of the California Penal Code is the state's statute that criminalizes trespass. Under this code, there are more than thirty activities that constitute criminal trespass. The most common include:

  • Entering another person’s property while intending to destroy that property
  • Entering another person’s property while intending to obstruct or interfere with the activities conducted there.
  • Entering and occupying someone else’s property without permission
  • Declining to get out of the private property after you have been requested to do so
  • Removing stones, dirt or soil from another person’s land without permission
  • Removing oysters or other types of shellfish from somebody else’s property
  • Refusing to be screened at a courthouse or airport

Although defining trespass legally is complicated by the numerous ways in which you can commit the crime, the prosecutor must prove certain elements to sustain charges of trespass against you. These are:

  1. You entered another person’s property willfully. Willfully means that you intended to act in the way you did.
  2. You specifically intended to interfere with the person’s property rights. Specific intent means that you deliberately and precisely planned both the action and the consequences.
  3. You interfered with the person’s property rights. If you did not damage property or interfere with the activities on the property, you did not commit trespass even if you entered the property.

Penalties for Trespass

Under California penal code sections 601, 602 and 602.8, your trespass charges can be infractions, misdemeanors or very rarely, felonies. 

Misdemeanor trespass is charged under Penal Code 602 and is punishable by:

  • Summary probation
  • Up to 6 months in county jail but some forms may attract up to 1 year in jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Both a fine and jail time

Trespass under Penal Code 602.8 PC will be charged as an infraction if:

  1. You willfully enter another person’s land without authorization and
  2. That land is fenced or has “no trespassing” signs erected at intervals of 3 or more for each mile.

Possible penalties include:

  • A fine of $75 for a first conviction
  • $250 for a second conviction on the same land.
  • A third offense for the same land will be charged as a misdemeanor.

Aggravated or Felony Trespass

You will be charged with this crime under Penal Code 601 PC if you:

  • Make a believable threat to severely injure someone else, with the intention to make the person fear for their safety and that of their family, and
  • Within 30 days of threatening the person, enter their workplace or property with an intention to execute the threat.

Aggravated trespass is a wobbler. It is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on your criminal record and the circumstances surrounding the crime.

Penalties for aggravated trespass as a misdemeanor are:

  • Not more than 1 year in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $2,000
  • Both the fine and sentence

For felony aggravated trespass, possible punishments are:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in a county jail
  • Formal probation

Contact a Property Crimes Attorney Near Me

Are you facing property crime charges? The first step is to seek a qualified attorney to represent you. Whether your action was deliberate or an accident, your best option is to hire a competent attorney. If you are in or around Los Angeles, CA, call our Los Angeles criminal lawyer at 818-484-1100 to speak with Leah Legal. We will spare no resource or time in our endeavor to discredit the evidence against you for the best possible verdict.