The crime of vandalism, sometimes called malicious mischief, criminal mischief, or property damage, occurs whenever someone intentionally damages property that belongs to someone else. Juvenile vandalism is any vandalism performed by a person under the age of 18. All states criminalize vandalism, though the language state laws use to describe the offense often differs. Regardless of how state laws describe the crime, all states criminalize the act of vandalism.
If you're an adult facing vandalism charges, please see Vandalism.
States do not have separate laws on vandalism and teen vandalism. Instead, vandalism laws apply to everyone regardless of a person's age. When a person under the age of 18 commits vandalism, that person is dealt with through the juvenile justice system. In this system, a prosecutor must still show that vandalism occurred, but the way the courts deal with the crime and the juvenile offender is very different than the way an adult court would deal with it.
Vandalism occurs when a person damages someone else's property without the owner's permission. Any action that causes actual physical harm to property, or that diminishes the property's value, qualifies as vandalism. For example, common activities such as breaking windows, keying cars, or tagging structures with paint or other forms of graffiti count as vandalism. As long as you are not the owner of the property, or do not have the owner's permission, any damage to any property is covered under vandalism laws. The damage can be very slight, and the property can be real estate, personal property, or property owned by the public.
A person cannot accidentally commit vandalism. Vandalism requires that a person have the intent to act in a way that results in property damage, even if the person didn't intend to cause the specific damage to the property. For example, let's say that you put some money in a vending machine, choose a candy bar, but the candy bar gets stuck and doesn't drop down. You then start kicking and punching the machine in an attempt to get your candy. If you cause damage to the machine, you can be convicted of vandalism because you intended to kick or punch the machine. That you only intended to recover your candy and did not mean to damage the machine doesn't matter. As long as you acted intentionally and those actions resulted in damage, you can be convicted of vandalism.
Whenever a teen is accused of a crime, that juvenile is dealt with through the juvenile justice system. In the juvenile justice system, courts and prosecutors have a much broader range of options then they would if an adult had committed the same crime.
With juvenile offenses, a court can order a range of penalties as punishment for a juvenile vandalism offense. The type of penalties a court imposes will differ significantly from case to case. The court will weigh a number of factors in determining the appropriate punishment. This means that even though fines or confinement may be possible punishments for vandalism in your state, that doesn't necessarily mean a juvenile court judge will impose that punishment.
Juvenile offenders have the right to legal counsel just as adults do. Because juvenile courts have such broad discretion in how they handle teen vandalism cases, the facts and arguments your lawyer brings to the court can really make a difference. It's important to speak to a local criminal defense attorney who has experience with the juvenile prosecutors and judges in your area. Your lawyer will be able to review your case and give you legal advice based on your individual situation. Whether you are juvenile or parent whose child has been charged, it's important you find a good lawyer to speak to as soon as possible.