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Q: What is vandalism, according to California law?

A: To prove that someone committed the crime of 'vandalism,' the prosecutor would have to convince a jury of the following:

"The defendant maliciously defaced with graffitti or with other inscribed material, OR

damaged OR destroyed real or personal property"


"The defendant did not own the property/owned the property with someone else"

To prove a FELONY vandalism, the prosecutor would need a third element:

"The amount of damage caused by the vandalism was $400 or more."

"Maliciously" in this context means the person intentionally does a wrongful act, or acts with unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else.

"Graffitti or other inscribed material" is unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark, or design that is written, marked, etched, scratched, drawn, or painted on real or personal property.

Potential defenses to vandalism charges:

  • Identity: someone other than the accused caused the damages​​

  • Intent: the damage was an accident or unavoidable under the circumstances

  • Value: the damage doesn't amount to a felony because it is less than $400 worth (it would still be a crime, but only a misdemeanor)

  • Ownership: you owned the property you damaged or destroyed, or you genuinely and reasonably believed you owned it

  • Consent: the owner of the property gave you permission

Example: you are painting a mural on a wall, but you already talked to the owner of the building and got their blessing. That wouldn't be vandalism.

But, these are not defenses:

  • Oops, I keyed the wrong car! - if you intended to cause damages to a particular person's property, but accidentally caused damages to a different person, it would not be a defense to the crime of vandalism, because there is still the intent and the damage, so all the elements are still technically met. Sorry!

  • I did it, but they deserved it after what they did to me! - if your significant other cheated on you really bad, and you react by breaking all their stuff, you can still get charged with vandalism. While your actions might feel justified, from a purely legal standpoint, this isn't a defense to a crime.

Exception: Let's say someone pulls a knife on you and, thinking fast, you throw a rock through their car window to distract them so you can get away--not to exact revenge. In that situation, you would have an argument that your actions weren't malicious, instead they were necessary and potentially a reasonable act of self-defense.

  • I didn't do it because I was mad, I just did it because I don't really care! - a lot of people think the word "malicious" means you have to do something angrily or with ill-will toward someone else, but really it's broader than that. If you spray a tag on a wall, it doesn't matter if you have no idea whose wall it is. 

If you are charged with a vandalism crime in Shasta County, including the areas of Redding, Anderson, Palo Cedro, Shasta Lake City, Cottonwood, Happy Valley, or if you are in Tehama County (Red Bluff), Trinity County (Weaverville), or nearby counties in the North State area of Northern California, don't hesitate to contact me for a free consultation and possible representation in your matter.

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