Vandalism Law, Defense, & Punishment
California Penal Code 594(a) & 594(b)
The law on the crime of vandalism is found at California penal code section 594. There are several variations of PC 594 crimes that may be charged depending on the particular set of facts of the case. For example, PC594(a)-M is charged where the amount of vandalism damage is less than four hundred dollars ($400), whereas PC594(b)(1)-F is charged where the amount of vandalism damage is more than four hundred dollars ($400). Different vandalism charges carry different punishments. This article is dedicated to a summary of the most common vandalism charges, defenses to vandalism charges, and the punishments associated with the most common vandalism charges.
Vandalism: The Law (abbreviated)
Every person who maliciously defaces, damages, or destroys any real or personal property not his or her own...is guilty of vandalism (PC 594(a))
Whenever a person violates this subdivision with respect to real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings, or property belonging to any public entity or the federal government, it shall be a permissive inference that the person neither owned the property nor had the permission of the owner to deface, damage, or destroy the property (PC 594(a)).
If the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is four hundred dollars ($400) or more, vandalism may be classified as a misdemeanor or as a felony (PC 594(b)(1))[see more on felony and misdemeanor punishment for vandalism below]
In order for the District Attorney to prove that the defendant committed vandalism under any PC 594 crime he or she must prove that the defendant maliciously (intentionally) destroyed or damaged the personal property of another person or government entity.
Punishment for PC 594 Vandalism Charges
PC 594(a) is classified as a misdemeanor. Punishment can include a jail sentence in the county jail up to one (1) year.
PC 594(b)(1) may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. When PC 594(b)(1) is charged as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one (1) year in the county jail. When PC 594(b)(1) is charged as a felony the defendant may face up to three (3) years in county prison. Whether or not a misdemeanor or felony vandalism crime will be charged under PC 594(b)(1) depends largely on the defendant criminal history and the egregiousness of the crime.
Probation Sentence: All vandalism crimes are eligible for a probation sentence. Probation is a period of supervision where the defendant must comply with certain probation terms. Probation can include some jail time but usually probation sentences that include jail time allow for the jail time to be served on house arrest (electronic monitoring) or work release. Other probation terms include the payment of fines, restraining orders, repayment of the damage for the vandalism, etc. Felony probation requires the defendant to check in with a probation officer, whereas misdemeanor probation (also known as court probation, summary probation, or informal probation) does not require the supervision of a probation officer.
Whether or not the defendant will receive a probation sentence upon a vandalism conviction depends largely on the defendant's criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the vandalism allegations. Other common alternatives to jail include split sentences and suspended sentences.
Other Punishment for PC 594 Crimes: In addition to any possible jail or prison commitment, if the defendant is found guilty of vandalism under PC 594(a) or PC 594(b)(1), he or she will be made to pay restitution, pay penalty fines, lose his or her professional or occupational licensing, lose his or her immigration status (for non-U.S. citizens), be subjected to civil lawsuits, lose his or her right to own or possess a firearm (for felony vandalism convictions), and more.
Note: Vandalism crimes are not considered serious or violent crimes under California law. Therefore, neither PC 594(a), nor PC 594(b)(1) are considered strike offenses. If the defendant is sentenced to jail or prison for any vandalism charge he or she will be entitled to earn up to fifty percent (50%) credit off his or her sentence for good behavior while in custody.
Defense to PC 594(a) & 594(b)(1)
Defenses to vandalism charges include: insufficient evidence to prove either the crime occurred or the value of the damaged or destroyed property, mistake of fact as to the ownership of the property destroyed, statue of limitations (time that the District Attorney must file the vandalism charges before the judge will dismiss the case for untimely filing), coerced confessions, intoxication, insanity, claim of right, consent to destroy, and more.
If you or a loved one is charged with vandalism under PC 594(a), PC 594(b)(1), or other vandalism charge, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal defense attorneys dedicate 100% of their practice to criminal defense and we have successfully handled many felony and misdemeanor vandalism charges. Our attorneys will inform you of your rights and defense options. We are available 24/7 to assist you. Call today!
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Crimes related to vandalism (PC 594) include:
- PC 594(b)(2)(A) Vandalism
- PC 594((b)(2)(B) Vandalism with prior
- PC 594.1(b) Purchase aerosol container of paint by minor
- PC 594.1(d) Carrying of aerosol paint container without authorization
- PC 594.2 Possession of graffiti tools
- PC 594.3 Vandalism of a place of worship or cemetery
- PC 594.7 Vandalism with prior (alternate charge)
- PC594(a)-M Vandalism & PC594(b)(1)-F Vandalism