Vandalism in California involves several actions like taking someone else’s car keys, engraving your name on wet cement, or even smashing someone’s mailbox. Vandalism charges have severe consequences, including hefty fines and even jail time. The seriousness of vandalism charges depends on the damages’ level and value if you are involved in a gang or the incident itself.

Facing a vandalism charge is a serious offense that will affect the quality of your life and earn you a criminal record. When facing these charges, it is advisable to hire a qualified attorney representing you in court, like the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. The lawyers at this law firm are well qualified and will work hard to ensure you receive a favorable outcome on your charges.

Legal Definition of Vandalism

Vandalism is defined by California penal code 594 as the act of maliciously destroying, damaging, or defacing any real or private property that belongs to another person. Vandalism offense includes the following actions:

  • Destroying property belonging to another person
  • Making inscription on someone else's private property or even defacing their properties
  • damaging someone's personal or real property

For vandalism charges to hold, the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had the intention to damage, deface, or destroy another person’s property.

According to California penal code 594, you will face vandalism charges when you destroy real public, and private property like; signs, furnishings, benches, vehicles, among other things. When facing these charges, the prosecution will assume that you had no right or permission to damage, destroy, or even deface the property.

Elements of Vandalism

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the following factors for a vandalism conviction to be issued:

  • You had the intention to injure or annoy another person.
  • You destroyed, defaced, or destroyed the property.
  • You did not own or had permission to the property that you destroyed, damaged, or inscribed graffiti on it.

You will face vandalism charges when you draw, write, paint, etch, mark a word, or design, on someone else’s property. You can not be convicted for vandalism or graffiti charges if the property destroyed, defaced, or damaged belongs to you.

Under California law, the prosecution can use penal code 594 to charge you for vandalism even if you did not actively participate in the act itself. For example, if you accompanied the person who committed the crime, you will face vandalism charges whether you committed the crime or not.

Various activities can make you face vandalism charges in California. These activities include but not limited to:

  • Breaking household items that you own together with your spouse during a domestic fight or violence.
  • Writing names or drawing figures in wet cement on public property like city sidewalk or benches.
  • Writing or spraying the wall of someone you know in the act of revenge for something wrongful they did against you.

Examples of Vandalism

When you face vandalism accusations, some of the actions that could attract charges are often overlooked. The following is a list of actions that can make you violate penal code 594:

  • Keying someone's car without their knowledge or permission.
  • Writing your name or initials on public property like a park bench.
  • Hitting someone’s mailbox with a bat.
  • Spray painting on another person’s wall or public property like a bridge.
  • Breaking and damaging other people’s property.
  • Damaging your ex’s car either by slashing the tires or breaking the window.
  • Throwing stones at someone's window.

Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing for Vandalism

When you commit a vandalism crime in Los Angeles, you will face conviction under Penal Code 594, and the penalty will depend on the value of the property that has been damaged. The prosecution can treat vandalism as a wobbler case, which means that the issue can receive either a felony or a misdemeanor conviction.

The prosecution might decide to charge you under PC 640.5 or PC 640.6 if the value of the property you have defaced or destroyed is worth $250 or if you caused graffiti by inscribing on another person’s property.

Graffiti Penalties

The decision to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony depends on your case’s circumstances and a criminal track record that you might possess. Sometimes you might face graffiti charges, and the damage caused is less than $250. This charge receives conviction under California Penal Code 640.5 and PC 640.6.

A Graffiti charge is not as severe as when facing a vandalism charge under PC 594. When you face graffiti charges under PC 640.5 or 640.6, the penalty will depend on whether it is your first or if you had a prior conviction on vandalism or graffiti charges.

  • First conviction

For a first time conviction, the California law treats it as an infraction, which will garner You a penalty of:

Community service,

              Pay a fine that does not exceed $1000.

  • Second Conviction

A second conviction occurs when you face graffiti charges, and you had a previous conviction record, whether under penal code 594 for vandalism or penal code 640.5 OR 640.6 for graffiti charges. Your charge becomes a misdemeanor even if the graffiti charges are less than $250.

A second offense will garner you charges under graffiti law, PC 640.5, or 640.6, which will constitute punishment of up to six months imprisonment in county jail. You will pay a fine that does not exceed $2,000 or commit to community service.

  • Subsequent convictions

When you have a track record for two or more vandalism or graffiti convictions in California, you will either serve a jail term or undergo probation for one or all of the charges. Then the subsequent convictions will be severe even if the amount is less than $250.

The penalty for a third or any other subsequent convictions is facing imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year in county jail, paying $3000 in fines, or committing to community service.

If the property’s value is damaged, destroyed, or defaced is less than $400, your charges will be as having committed a misdemeanor crime. The penalty for this crime is to serve a jail term that does not exceed one year in county jail, pay a fine not more than $1000, or have both the imprisonment and hefty fine.

Vandalism Penalties

Sometimes you can find yourself facing misdemeanor vandalism for a second time. Facing misdemeanor charges a second time will ensure that you receive a severe sentence for the second and subsequent offenses. If the value of the property that you have destroyed or defaced is less than $400, you will find yourself facing a jail term that does not exceed one year in county jail, or pay $5,000 in fines, or have both the imprisonment and pay the fine.

When the charge brought against you is misdemeanor vandalism, and the amount of the property destroyed is less than $10,000. However, still more than $400, your conviction will carry an imprisonment term of upto one year in state prison, pay $10,000 in fines, or have both the imprisonment and fine.

If you receive a felony conviction, you will receive severe penalties like facing imprisonment that ranges between one to three years in county jail or pays $10000 in fines, or more depending on the dollar value of the property destroyed.

When the prosecution accuses you of committing felony vandalism with the property value exceeding $10,000, the court can have you spend an imprisonment term that does not exceed three years in state prison or have you pay $50,000 in fines.

Defenses to Vandalism

When you find yourself on the wrong side of the law facing vandalism charges, whether you actively committed the crime or not, you will need to have a defense team to help you fight against these charges. You can use several incidents that the law provides to defend yourself against vandalism charges, which could lead to a reduced sentence or even an acquittal. These instances include, but not limited to:

  • You caused property damage by Accident

Sometimes accidents do happen, and if you can prove to the court that you did not damage someone’s property maliciously, but by accident, the court will find you not guilty of the crime brought against you by the prosecution. You must prove that the damage was due to the accident and that you had no intention of injuring or causing harm to the other person’s property.

  • False Accusation

In most cases, vandalism often accompanies domestic issues. Due to this, it is prevalent to be falsely accused and suffer through wrongful arrests. A jealous spouse can falsely accuse you in the event of domestic violence. Most people will raise false allegations against you in a jealous fit or seek revenge. Your spouse could try to blame you for property destruction even though the damage was due to an accident.

You could also get false accusations from your friends if you committed the vandalism crime together, and then they decide to let you take all the blame. It's up to your defense attorney to prove that you were either falsely accused or someone who wants to blame you.

  • You Acted Without Malicious Intention

For a vandalism offense to be convicted, the prosecution must prove that you acted maliciously beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, your defense team needs to prove to the court that your actions were not malicious.

  • The Property Belongs to You

Under Penal Code 594, you will be guilty of vandalism offense if the property you defaced, destroyed, or damaged doesn't belong to you. You can therefore prove to the court that the property in question belongs to you.

  • You had authorization from the property owner.

You can also defend yourself against vandalism charges by proving that you had expressed permission from the property owner you are accused of destroying or defacing.

  • Mistaken identity Suppose

Sometimes you might find yourself facing vandalism charges due to mistaken identity. Mistaken  identity can happen in any or all of the following instances:

  1. You were together with the people who committed the offense or were seen at the scene of the crime even though you did not participate in breaking the law.
  2. When someone mistakenly believes that you destroyed their property and accused you of it when you were innocent.
  3. If you match or look-alike with the person who committed the offense.

Can You have your Vandalism Conviction Expunged in California?

Suppose you are charged and convicted for either a misdemeanor or a felony case, and the court puts under probation. In that case, you can have your criminal record expunged in California after a successful probation period. You will have to meet all the terms of your probation without fail for a judge to expunge your record.

The court can decide to lower your felony vandalism conviction to a misdemeanor and also terminate your probation early when you comply and adhere to the terms and conditions for your probation for the first one or two years.

Related Crimes to Vandalism

Several offenses are charged together with or in the place of vandalism in California. These charges include but not limited to: 


Under PC 459, you will face burglary charges on top of vandalism charges if you enter someone’s property intending to commit a crime. If the prosecution believes that you got to someone’s property intending to commit a crime, it can raise felony vandalism charges against you. The court will then charge you for both burglary and vandalism offenses.

Penalties for Burglary

Under California law, when you face burglary charges of an inhabited structure, your crime will be a felony, and you will receive a severe sentence. When the court convicts you of this crime, your ruling could lead to imprisonment of up to six years in state prison. If the prosecution charges with a wobbler, where you committed both vandalism and burglary, but on a not inhibited structure, you will receive a lesser sentence once convicted.


Arson is the malicious act of setting your property or someone else's property on fire. Under  PC 451, you will receive arson charges if you maliciously set someone’s or your property on fire. The prosecution can charge you with arson and also add malicious damage to your account under vandalism law. The penalties for a malicious arson charge to hold in a court of law depend on the following:

  • If there were any casualties in the fire
  • The property involved
  • Your intention when setting the fire up

Penalties for Arson

If the arson results in body injury, you will face a sentence that ranges from five to nine years in state prison.

When the arson charges are against an inhabited structure, you will face felony convictions and face an imprisonment period that ranges from two to eight years in state prison.


Trespass is the act of entering someone's property without permission to do so. California Penal Code 602 prohibits trespass. You can be charged for vandalism and trespass under California laws when you commit or violate someone's property. In most cases, a trespass offense is charged as a misdemeanor.

Penalties for Trespass

When you have been found guilty of trespassing, the court can rule that you:

  • Face an imprisonment period not exceeding one year.
  • Pay $1000 in fines.
  • Face imprisonment and pay fine.

If you commit the offense a second time, the court can have you sentenced to:

  • A jail term not exceeding one year in county jail
  • Pay a $2000 fine
  • Pay the fine and serve jail time

The court can also decide to guarantee your probation, required to take counseling that you will have to pay for.

Gang Enhancement

When you are facing charges for this offense, your charge will be under PC186.22. Under this law, you will face additional penalties if you receive a felony conviction when you commit the crime intending to further, or under the orders of street gangs. It doesn't matter if you receive an attempted felony conviction; the prosecution will ensure that you received a severe sentence when you intended to enhance a street gang criminal activity.

Penalties for Gang Enhancement

Imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding one year or be incarcerated in a and is defined as the act of willfully inflicting bodily injury or harm to your spouse.

Domestic Violence

The prosecution can have you charged with both vandalism and domestic violence at the same time. For example, you can face both vandalism and domestic violence if when you argue with your spouse or partner, you end up throwing an object at them. Thereby injuring them and, at the same time, damaging the item. The prosecution can have corporal injury and vandalism charges against you.

You can also have domestic battery charges raised against you and charged under California Penal Code 243e1. In this case, the prosecution must prove that you willfully inflicted or injured your spouse. You could face these charges even if the harm you caused did not leave any mark on the accuser.

Penalties of Domestic Violence

  • Pay a fine that does not exceed $2,000,
  • Imprisonment that does not exceed one year in county prison,
  • Both imprisonment and fine.

You will be required to pay the hefty fines that the court will penalize your child with, and if the minor is sentenced to community work, the court might be expecting you to assist them with it. The community work will affect both your standing in society and might even affect your career.

When a minor under your care commits vandalism or graffiti, the court might order them to:

  • carry out community service
  • Counseling
  • Ensure that particular property in the neighborhood is graffiti-free for a specified time.

Damaging Telephone, Utility, or Electrical Lines

When you damage or destroy telephone, utility, or electrical lines, you will face the charges under a PC 591, a different law. You will face wobbler penalties when the prosecution proves that you cut, obstructed, or damaged electrical, telephone, or any utility lines or the equipment associated with the said lines.

In addition to these charges, the prosecution could have vandalism charges to go with them. Another cost that goes hand in hand with these charges is the crime of poisoning water, medical, or food supply. The prosecution will raise these charges and have you convicted under Penal Code 347.

Penalties for Damaging Telephone, Utility, or Electrical Lines

  • One year imprisonment in county jail,
  • Pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000, or
  • Have both the imprisonment and the fine.

Depending on your offense’s severity, you can also find yourself facing imprisonment in county jail ranging from 16 months to three years and paying fines that can go up to $10,000.

Special Laws for Juveniles in California

According to statistics, minors in Los Angeles constitute more than 50% of the people facing vandalism charges. When a minor under your care is facing vandalism charges, it is advisable to seek an attorney who will fight for them. Hire an attorney who has a good track record in handling vandalism cases, one who understands a California juvenile system’s proceedings.

As a guardian, understand that a vandalism charge will not only affect your child but will have its impact on the whole family as well.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm Near Me

When you or your loved one faces vandalism charges, your situation might look dire, with the future looking grim. You will need a defense attorney who could fight for your rights. These charges are serious with severe repercussions that will affect you and structure your loved ones as well.

You want to hire a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney to defend you and ensure that you receive a favorable outcome in your case. Our attorneys have what it takes to represent you in court and ensure that you obtain the best outcome for your case. Contact us at 310-564-2605 and set up a consultation with our attorneys.

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