In 455 A.D., a group of Germanic tribesmen invaded the
Roman empire and sacked the city of Rome itself. Their burning and
pillaging were so complete that the tribe's reputation was sealed for
all of history as synonymous with their act of destruction. The tribe
was called the Vandals, and to this day vandalism is a crime in every
What is Vandalism?
is the willful destruction or damaging of property in a manner that
defaces, mars, or otherwise adds a physical blemish that diminishes the
property's value. For example, if you put bumper stickers on a person's
car, or spray-paint your name on someone's fence, this is vandalism.
Vandalism can also cover such offenses as:
carving your initials into public park trees or public benches, or writing your name on a store window with a marker
“keying” a car or puncturing its tires
breaking a building's windows, and
knocking over grave markers.
vandalism involves damaging property, it is not always the same as the
crime of “destruction of property” or “damage to property.” These crimes
can cover more serious physical damage, though some states use these
categories to also cover acts of vandalism. In other words, what is
vandalism in one state may be destruction of property in another.
like every crime, is made up of different parts, known as elements. To
be convicted of vandalism, the prosecutor must prove that you have
committed each of these elements. Let's look at the different elements
Vandalism covers such acts as graffiti, “tagging,” carving, etching,
and other forms of damage that, though often permanent, are not so
serious that they destroy the property or prevent it from functioning
properly. Placing stickers, posters, signs, or other markers on property
can also constitute physical damage.
Owned by someone else. The
property you damage must be owned or possessed by someone else, and you
must damage it against the owner's wishes. You cannot, for example,
commit vandalism by covering your own fence in graffiti or by adding
bumper stickers to a car after receiving permission from the owner.
You cannot accidentally commit vandalism. For example, if you're
painting your house and accidentally spill some paint on your neighbor's
fence, you have not vandalized the property. (However, you’d still be
legally obligated to pay for repairs to the fence.) To commit the crime
of vandalism, you must damage the property on purpose.
Penalties for Vandalism
general, vandalism is not a serious crime unless the property destroyed
is worth a lot of money. Many acts of vandalism are misdemeanors,
meaning the maximum penalties include fines and up to a year in the
local jail. However, vandalism that results in serious damage to
valuable property is a felony. Defendants charged with a felony can face
more than a year in state prison and significant fines.
states categorize damage to property worth less than $500 as a
misdemeanor, while anything worth $500 or more is a felony. This amount
can differ among states or depending on the type of property. For
example, some states set a $250 limit to misdemeanors, but consider any
damage to a motor vehicle a felony.
Each state has its own set of penalties that cover vandalism. Here are the most commonly encountered punishments.
jail sentence for vandalism can range from for a few days in jail to
several years in prison, depending on the amount of damage done. If you
have a previous conviction for vandalism, or have a criminal record for
any other offenses, you may face increased jail penalties.
for vandalism differ widely by state as well, ranging from several
hundred dollars to up to $25,000 or more for the most serious offenses.
You pay these fines directly to the court and not to the property owner.
is the money you pay the property owner for the damage you caused. The
money is in addition to the fine you have to pay, and you usually have
to pay enough so the owner can repair or replace the damaged property.
A court can also sentence you to probation instead of, or in addition
to, your jail sentence and fines. For example, a court may sentence a
first-time offender who commits misdemeanor vandalism to probation
instead of jail time. If you violate any of the rules or conditions that
come with probation (such as a requirement that you perform “community
service," explained below), the court may order you to serve the
original jail sentence.
Community service. A
court can also require you to perform community service as part of your
punishment. This means that you must spend a specific number of hours
serving a volunteer organization or other recognized community service
program as a condition of your probation. If you fail to do the
community service you will face the original fines and jail sentence.
See a Lawyer
you’ve been charged with the crime of vandalism, consider consulting
with a criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area.
An experienced lawyer will be able to evaluate the strength of the
prosecution’s evidence against you, explain your options and the likely
consequences for each, and protect your rights. Only a local lawyer who
knows how cases like yours are normally handled by the prosecutors and
judges in your courthouse will be able to give you practical and