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Vandalism is an act of intentionally harming someone else property. This kind of crime is usually associated with bored and misguided youth and fall under California Criminal Laws, specifically, Penal Code Section 594C.

Anyone convicted of this crime can face both mild and severe charges according to the kind of crimes committed. It is essential to hire an attorney to ensure that you get a fair trial and legal advice needed for such a case. We at Leah Legal are committed to ensuring that our clients get the best services. Even so, you must learn various aspects related to vandalism to be sure of the legal proceedings.

Definition of Vandalism Under California Law

The California Criminal laws defines vandalism as the malicious destruction or defacing of the property of another person. The crime falls under the Penal Code 594 PC and revolves around three elements of the crime.

Elements of Vandalism Crime in California

For a prosecutor to successfully convict an alleged person, he or she must prove all the elements of the crime. In vandalism, the elements of the crime are as follows:

That you Maliciously Destroyed or Damaged other Person’s Property by Defacing with Graffiti or Using any Other Inscribed Material

In this context, the emphasis is usually on the graffiti or any other inscribed materials. These terms refer to any unauthorized inscriptions, figures, mark, or design written, drawn, etched, or painted on personal property. In other words, this means that any unauthorized drawing or writing on the property using any tool qualifies in the description.

Real property includes any building attached to the land. On the other hand, personal property refers to anything within someone else's property, such as a car, furniture inside a house, among other items. The law is not clear whether the graffiti or inscribed material should be permanent or not to qualify to be part of the charges.

Apart from graffiti, there are other acts within California Vandalism laws. These actions include:

  • Spraying paint on the highway or a public bridge
  • Keying the vehicle of another person
  • Carving a heart or your initials in a public bench or tree in a park
  • Slashing the tires of your ex’s car
  • Throwing a rock on your or another person’s window
  • Breaking into your property or another person’s property

Another Person Owned the Property

It might seem clear that vandalism is associated with a property that one does not own, but there are fine details that deserve a discussion. For instance, if the alleged vandalism was on public property such as the beach or park, the jury presumes that you do not have ownership of the property, which warrants the allegations.

Also, according to the Penal Code 594 PC, Vandalism law applies to a property that is jointly owned. For instance, if you vandalize a property you co-own with your husband or wife, you still stand to be convicted with vandalism allegations.

The Act was Malicious

A malicious act is defined as:

  • Intentionally did a wrongful act
  • An action that was unlawful and intended to annoy or injure someone else

The act does not mean that one intended to break the law per se. Therefore, if you did the action accidentally, then you are not guilty of vandalism.

The Level of Defacement, Destruction or Damage was within a Particular Financial Value

There is a specific monetary value of the property destroyed that determines whether vandalism is a misdemeanor or felony. For instance, if the economic cost of replacing or repairing the vandalized property is less than $400, the prosecutor will charge you with misdemeanor vandalism.

If the financial value of repairing or replacing the property is above $400, the prosecutor will consider the crime as a wobbler, meaning that he or she can charge you with a felony or misdemeanor.

For the prosecutor to decide whether it is a felony, he or she must consider whether you have prior acts of vandalism on your criminal record and if the total value of the damaged property is above $400.

Note, you might have committed numerous acts of vandalism, but if they do not sum up to $400, the jury might decide to award you with a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Also, vandalism on the motor vehicle is not under Penal Code 594 PC but falls under the Vehicle Code 10853.

Penalties for Violating Vandalism Laws

Anyone who is allegedly convicted with vandalism in California faces harsh penalties, punishment, and sentencing. There are complicated penalties associated with vandalism in California. The penalties are as follows:

  1. Penalties For Misdemeanor Vandalism

A misdemeanor vandalism charge is one that the financial value of the damaged property is below $400. In such crimes, the penalties that might apply are:

  • Imprisonment lasting up to a year
  • A maximum fee of $1,000 to $5,000 if you had prior vandalism convictions
  • Probation

The probation carries various restrictions and punishments, which are:

  • Suspension of your California driver’s license for up to two years. If you do not hold any driver’s license, you might face a delay of your eligibility to get one for one to three years.
  • Participation in community service. Some of the activities that you might be subjected to include personally cleaning, repairing, replacing the damaged property
  • Keeping the damaged property or the property of another person free from any graffiti up to a year.
  1. Penalties for Felony Vandalism

Under California Penal Code 594 PC vandalism damages that amount more than $400 are considered as a wobbler. Therefore, for damages above $400, the alleged person faces penalties such as:

  • One year of imprisonment
  • A maximum fine of $10,000 or up to $50,000 if the financial value of the damage amounts to $10,000 or more
  • Similar probation conditions to misdemeanor vandalism

For anyone convicted with felony vandalism, he or she faces penalties such as:

  • Probation with one-year imprisonment in county jail, a jail sentence for sixteen months, two years, or three years.
  • A fine that can amount up to $10,000 or a maximum of $50,000 if the damages are worth $10,000 or more
  • Similar probation conditions provided for misdemeanor vandalism

Note, if you have ever served probation in one or two of your previous vandalism, the California law provides that you should serve a prison sentence or jail time in your current case.

  1. Penalties for Graffiti Damages

For a prosecutor to charge you with graffiti damages, the damage value limit is $250. This means that the damages must be valued less or more than $250. In such a case, the prosecutor might opt to charge you under Penal Code 640 .5 and 640.6 PC rather than Penal Code 594 PC. For the prosecutor to charge you with 640.5 PC or 640.6 PC, you probably had committed prior California graffiti or vandalism crimes.

  1. Penalties for a First Vandalism Conviction

California laws consider any graffiti vandalism conviction without a previous similar conviction as an infraction. In such a crime, the potential penalties include:

  • A fine that can reach up to a maximum of $1,000
  • Community service
  1. Penalties for a Second Vandalism Conviction

Under Penal Code 594 PC and other California vandalism law, a prosecutor should charge you with a misdemeanor if the damage costs were below $250. Therefore, the penalties for such crimes fall under misdemeanor vandalism.

If the offender gets convicted under Penal Code 640.5 or 640.6, the penalties might be different from those under Penal Code 594 PC. The penalties include:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to 6 months
  • A fine that can reach up to $ 2,000
  • Community service
  1. Penalties for Third and Subsequent Vandalism Conviction

There are three things you need to consider to determine whether a particular conviction falls under this category. They include:

  • A sentence with two or more previous vandalism offenses
  • Served a jail sentence or probation for one or both convictions
  • You were convicted with graffiti worth less than $250 under Penal Code 640.5 or 640.6 PC.

For anyone who falls within the elements provided above, he or she will face the following misdemeanor penalties:

  • One year of county jail imprisonment
  • A fine that can reach up to $3,000
  • community service.

Penalties for Other Types of Vandalism

Apart from the Penal Code 594 PC, other laws can convict anyone who conducts an act of vandalism. However, other statutes do not focus on the cost of the damage but consider the type of property and the type of vandalism the offender conducts. The act of vandalism is as follows:

Vandalism on a Place of Worship

Under Penal Code 594.3 PC, vandalizing a place of worship, whether it is a church, temple, mosque, or any other place of worship, is regarded as a wobbler despite the cost of the damage.

For a misdemeanor offense, the penalties are as follows:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year
  • A fine that can amount to $1,000
  • All probation conditions that apply under Penal Code 594 PC

If anyone gets convicted with a felony, he or she risks penalties such as:

  • Imprisonment for 16 months, two years or three years
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • Probation with all conditions applied under Penal Code 594

Note: if you intended to intimidate or scare someone based on his or her religious beliefs, then the action is considered a hate crime. In such a case, you will automatically face a felony conviction.

Under Penal Code 594.35 PC, conducting a similar act as the one stated-above at a mortuary or cemetery will attract similar penalties.

Vandalism on or Near a Freeway or Highway

Penal Code 640.7 and 640.8 PC set forth the penalties for vandalism that occur on a highway or freeway. Such crimes are considered misdemeanors and are punishable by:

  • Six months imprisonment for a first conviction on or near a highway
  • Jail time for up to a year for the second conviction or the first conviction of vandalism on or near a freeway
  • Community service or attend counseling

Possibility of California Vandalism Conviction Expungement

Since there is a possibility of probation sentence in a misdemeanor vandalism conviction, your case might get expunged from the California criminal records if you complete your probationary period. Even so, the judge might deny your expungement if you fail to adhere to some of the conditions of your probation.

Besides, anyone who has been convicted with felony vandalism can seek the reduction of charges to a misdemeanor. Also, you might get an early termination of your probation if you adhere to the terms and conditions of your probation within the first year or two years.

Legal Defenses for California Vandalism Charges

You need to hire an attorney if you want to be successful in your case. Your attorney should apply relevant legal defenses on your behalf to avoid severe punishment or have the judge dismiss the trial. The legal defenses for California vandalism charges include:

  1. Your Action Was Not Malicious

As required by Penal Code 594 PC, you must maliciously vandalize another person’s property to satisfy that the act was a vandalism crime. So, if the act was accidental, you can use this aspect as your defense.

  1. You Owned the Damaged Property

Penal Code 594 PC requires an offender to have maliciously defaced or destroyed another person’s property to satisfy the crime. Therefore, if you did the action within your property and there is legal evidence it belongs to you, you can use this aspect as your defense in a trial.

  1. You had Consent from the Owner

If you get consent from the property owner to destroy something, the act is not malicious since you have permission from the owner. However, to satisfy this legal defense, you must prove you had consent from the owner.

  1. The Claim was False

Most vandalism crimes have a connection with domestic cases. Therefore, there are possibilities of false allegations due to jealousy, revenge, or anger against you. Someone else might deface or destroy another person’s property and lay blame on you as a form of revenge or jealousy.

  1. You were Mistakenly Identified

You can also claim that you were mistakenly identified with the real wrongdoer. This might happen if:

  • Your description matches the offender
  • You were in the company of the offender
  • Someone mistakenly believes you are responsible for the act and blamed you for it, although it is not true.

Crimes Related to Vandalism

There are particular offenses with similar charges or have a connection to California vandalism. These kinds of offenses include:


Under Penal Code 602 PC, it is prohibited to enter another person’s property without his or her right. Therefore, if you trespassed another person’s property and vandalized his or her property, you will be charged with both offenses.


Under Penal Code 459 PC, it is prohibited to enter the property of another person to commit petty theft or felony once you are inside. Therefore, if caught inside a property and with the intention of committing felony vandalism, the prosecutor will charge you with both burglary and vandalism.

Burglary, in an inhabited structure or house, is considered as a felony and carries a maximum of 6 years of state imprisonment. If the act was in an uninhabited structure, the case becomes a wobbler.


Penal Code 451 PC describes Arson as an act of maliciously setting fire to another person’s property. Also, in some cases, the law applies to your property, as well. If one gets charged with Arson, the prosecutor might also charge you with vandalism since you destroyed the same property under California law.

The act usually carries felony penalties which depends on:

  • If there were injuries sustained by the victims
  • The type of property involved
  • Whether you set the fire willfully or it was a reckless act

Domestic Violence

As mentioned earlier, there is an excellent connection between vandalism and domestic violence. This occurs when the action arose from a dispute between a couple. In such a scenario, two statutes apply, which are the Penal Code 273.5 PC and Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC.

Under Penal Code 273.5 PC, one spouse should willfully inflict bodily injury on their spouse, leading to a traumatic condition such as a visible wound. On the other hand, Penal Code 243e1 PC involves a willful act of inflicting any amount of force or violence on your spouse- even when it did not leave any visible wound or mark on the spouse.

Statute of Limitations for Vandalism

The Statute of Limitations provides the period that a prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. Since vandalism is a wobbler, the period in the statute of limitations that applies depends on the maximum prison term you will get if the charge was a felony. Therefore, since the maximum penalty for vandalism is three years, the statute of limitations provides three years for vandalism cases.

Find an Criminal Attorney Near Me

Cases related to vandalism in California are complex. It is hard for any person to follow through such cases without the intervention of a professional attorney. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, we at Leah Legal are the best attorneys for your vandalism case. We are ready to offer the best services that match the reputation we have established with our former clients. For more information, reach out to us at 818-484-1100 and schedule an appointment with us.