Penal Code 594 PC; California Vandalism Law

What One Needs to Know About California Vandalism Law

California law makes it an offense to engage in vandalism under Penal Code 594 PC. The law defines vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying, or defacing another person’s property.

To prove that a defendant committed vandalism, a prosecutor has to prove that they maliciously defaced property with graffiti or inscribed material, damaged, or destroyed property. Also, they must prove that the defendant did not own the property or have the owner’s consent.  A person acts maliciously when they intentionally do a wrongful act or when they act with the unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else.

Under California vandalism law, graffiti includes any unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark, or design that is marked, written, etched, drawn, scratched or painted on real or personal property. The damage does not have to be permanent, and for instance, writing on glass with a black marker that can later be erased may be considered vandalism.

Vandalism under California law requires that the defendant acted with malicious intent. A defendant can raise a valid accident defense if this is not present. The legal defenses that can be helpful to a defendant if charged with vandalism may include; if they were a mistaken identity, if they were falsely accused, or if they damaged someone’s property by accident.

Penalties for vandalism offenses may vary depending on the circumstances of the crime. If the value of property damage inflicted is less than $400, vandalism is a misdemeanor offense that can be punished by up to one year in jail, restitution to the victim, court fines, counseling and a mandatory driver’s license suspension of up to two years.

Under California Penal Code 594 PC, vandalism that results in damages of $400 or more is a wobbler and can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the factual circumstances of the case as well as the criminal history of the defendant. If charged as a felony, the defendant can face a sentence of up to three years in prison. A person who has two previous vandalism convictions has to be sentenced to jail or prison on any subsequent vandalism conviction.


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