Caught Spraying Graffiti: What are the Criminal Consequences?

All states, as well as many municipalities, have laws that make it a crime to spray graffiti on public property or private property that you do not own or have permission to use

All states, as well as many municipalities, have laws that make it a crime to spray graffiti on public property or private property that you do not own or have permission to use. Graffiti crimes are very common offenses, especially in larger communities. While it may seem like a minor crime, being caught spraying graffiti can lead to some significant criminal consequences.

Adult Penalties

If you are convicted of the crime of spraying graffiti, the possible penalties you face differ significantly based on the circumstances of your case. City graffiti ordinances typically penalize people convicted of vandalism or graffiti spraying with a fine, though other sentences such as community service, probation and even jail sentences are possible as well.

However, state laws also apply to graffiti cases, and many of these have far more serious potential consequences. Many states have laws that allow for minor penalties if the graffiti caused little to no damage, as well as allow for more serious penalties if the graffiti caused significant damage.

In many states, the type of penalty that applies will depend upon whether you’ve been previously convicted of spraying graffiti and how much damage the graffiti did to public or private property.

For example, if you are convicted of a graffiti crime in the state of Nevada, the penalty ranges from as little as fine of between $400 and $1,000 and serving 100 hours of community service, to as much as five years in a state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Juvenile Penalties

A juvenile is anyone under the age of 18. Juveniles who commit crimes are treated differently than adults who engage in the same behavior. Juveniles who are caught spraying graffiti are dealt with through the juvenile justice system and not the criminal justice system.

Even though the crime of graffiti is identical at both the juvenile and adult level, juvenile courts have much broader discretion than adult courts. When a juvenile is charged with a graffiti offense, the case usually ends in one of three ways.

  • Dropped charges. A prosecutor might choose to dismiss the graffiti charges or drop the case. This commonly happens when, for example, the juvenile is very young, is a first-time offender, or the prosecutor believes that the child has already been punished enough.
  • Informal adjudication. A prosecutor, or the juvenile court, can also agree to an informal end to the case. In this situation, the court or the prosecution allows the juvenile to perform community service, participate in informal probation, or meet other requirements as a punishment. If the juvenile successfully complete those tasks, the court dismisses the graffiti charges.
  • Formal charges. In the most serious cases, a prosecutor can initiate formal juvenile adjudication. This is very much like an adult criminal trial where the prosecutor has to present evidence. If the judge determines the juvenile is guilty (delinquent), he or she will then order the juvenile to pay a fine, get counseling, serve probation, repay the property owner for the damage, stay in a juvenile detention center, or other types of punishments.

Like adult graffiti charges, the possible penalties involved in any juvenile case will differ significantly based upon the circumstances and the laws of the state or municipality where the juvenile is charged.

For more information on how young people are handled in the criminal justice system, see Juvenile Crimes and Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record.

Seek Legal Advice

Being caught tagging or spraying graffiti is a very common criminal offense that many people don’t take seriously. Depending on the circumstances of your situation and the laws of your state, you could face some significant consequences if you are convicted of a graffiti crime. You should always talk to a criminal defense attorney any time you’re charged with a crime, even if it is for something as small or as seemingly inconsequential as a graffiti charge.

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