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Orange County Vandalism Attorney

Vandalism, according to California Penal Code section 594, is defined as maliciously defacing with graffiti, damaging or destroying property that doesn’t belong to you.  Common examples of vandalism include “keying” someone’s car, breaking a window or “tagging”.  Vandalism that results in damage less than $400 is a misdemeanor.   Vandalism where the damage is $400 or more can be charged as a felony.


Graffiti, also known as “tagging”, is also considered vandalism and there are other related laws that are aimed at preventing tagging.  For example, Penal Code section 594.1(a)(1) prohibits stores from selling cans of aerosol paint to minors and section 594.1(b) prohibits minors from purchasing cans of aerosol paint.  If a child has a legitimate need for aerosol paint (such as a school project), then the parent should purchase it.  Penal Code section 594.1 also prohibits anybody from possessing aerosol paint cans in a public park or on a public street.   Penal Code section 594.2 prohibits the possession of graffiti-related tools by anybody – adult or minor.  These supplemental sections are all misdemeanor violations.

Hate Crimes

Any vandalism that occurs in a place of worship, such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue is treated more seriously that vandalism in other locations.  California Penal Code section 594.3(a) makes it a wobbler for a person to commit vandalism in a place of worship, regardless of the damage.  Any person who knowingly commits any act of vandalism in a place of worship where religious services are regularly conducted … which is shown to have been a hate crime and to have been committed for the purpose of intimidating and deterring persons from freely exercising their religious beliefs, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, pursuant to California Penal Code section 594.3(b).

Vandalism of Telephone

There is a separate section the deals with vandalism of a telephone or cell phone.  Pursuant to Penal Code section 591, a person who unlawfully and maliciously takes down, removes, injures, or obstructs any line of telegraph, telephone, or cable television, or any other line used to conduct electricity, or any part thereof, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, or severs any wire thereof, or makes any unauthorized connection with any line, other than a telegraph, telephone, or cable television line, used to conduct electricity, or any part thereof, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year.  Penal Code section 591 is a wobbler and is often charged in domestic violence cases where a defendant is accused of yanking the phone cord out of the wall, or disabling / destroying a phone, in order to prevent another person from calling the police during a domestic disturbance.

Vandalism Elements

In order for a defendant to be convicted of traditional vandalism pursuant to Penal Code section 594, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1.      The defendant maliciously (defaced with graffiti or damaged or destroyed) property;


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

AND for felonies:

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

Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else.

Vandalism can occur even if the damage is not permanent.  The court has held that writing on a glass window with a marker pen can constitute vandalism.

Vandalism cannot be charged in the aggregate.  The prosecution cannot add up the damage from multiple acts of misdemeanor vandalism in order to charge an act of felony vandalism.

Vandalism still applies if the property was jointly owned and the other owner did not consent to the damage.  For example, if a husband destroys property that is jointly owned by both spouses, then vandalism can be charged.

Vandalism Sentencing

If the amount of damage in the vandalism is under $400, then the vandalism is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year county jail and/or $1000 in fines.  If the defendant has a prior conviction for vandalism, then the maximum sentence for misdemeanor vandalism is one year county jail and/or $5000 in fines.

The amount of vandalism damage is $400 or more, then the vandalism is a wobbler with a maximum sentence of three years prison and/or $10,000 in fines.  If the vandalism damage is $10,000 or more, then the fines could be as high as $50,000.  The amount of jail time and/or fines will depend on the damage done and whether the defendant has any prior convictions for vandalism and/or graffiti.

The exception to the rule about $400 would be if the vandalism occurred in a place of worship.  Any vandalism that occurs in a church, temple, mosque, synagogue or other place of worship is a wobbler and can be charged as a felony even if the damage was less than $400, pursuant to California Penal Code section 594.3.

Graffiti, also known as tagging, has its own special consequences.  A person convicted of defacing property with graffiti can be ordered to clean up the graffiti themselves or ordered to keep that property (or some other property) free of graffiti for one year.  That means the defendant can be ordered to clean up property or keep property free from vandalism, even if they did not damage that property.  And if the defendant is a minor, then the court can hold the parents liable for the service (unless it’s detrimental to their children) and for any fines involved (unless that is a financial hardship).

Vandalism that occurs for the benefit of a street gang also carries special penalties.  California Penal Code section 186.22(b), commonly known as the gang enhancement, increases the penalties for any person who is convicted of a felony committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members.  If the People allege a vandalism enhancement pursuant to Penal Code section 186.22(b), then a felony vandalism conviction will result in an additional two to four years state prison and will be considered a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Imprisonment for felony vandalism is subject to Penal Code section 1170(h), which means that any defendant sentenced to prison for felony vandalism will serve that time in the county jail, as opposed to state prison.

Driver’s License Suspension from Vandalism

A vandalism conviction results in an automatic driver’s license suspension for up to two years pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 13202.6.  Specifically, Vehicle Code section 13202.6(a)(1) states that every conviction for a violation of Penal Code sections 594, 594.3 or 594.4 that is committed by a defendant who is 13 years of age or order shall result in a suspension of the defendant’s driving privilege for up to two years.  If the defendant does not have a driver’s license yet, then the court can delay the issuance of a driving privilege for anywhere from one to three years.  Each subsequent vandalism conviction can delay the driving privilege by an additional year.

Exceptions to this suspension may apply if there is a family hardship that requires the defendant to have a driver’s license for his or her or a family member’s employment, school or for medically related purposes.

Also, the court may elect to reduce the period of suspension or delay if the defendant is willing to perform community service under the direction of the probation department.  The rate of reduction is one day for every hour of community service performed.  If the defendant committed graffiti and the county has a graffiti abatement program (as defined by Penal Code section 594(f)), then the period of suspension / delay shall be reduced by one day for each day of community service performed in the graffiti abatement program.  In these situations, the suspension / delay will only be reduced when the specified period of community service has been completed.  For the purposes of this paragraph, “community service” means cleaning up graffiti from public property, including public transit vehicles.

Vandalism Defenses

Hiring our firm early is the best step when facing a vandalism charge.  The very first thing that can be done is to contact the District Attorney’s office to negotiate with the prosecutors about not filing charges or reducing the charges to be filed, before the first court appearance.  In order for Fred Thiagarajah to negotiate with the prosecution early, however, our firm should be retained quickly, before the District Attorney’s office reviews the police report and files charges.

If charges are filed, common defenses to vandalism include:

1.  The defendant was not acting maliciously when the property was defaced, damaged or destroyed.  If the property was destroyed by accident, then there is no malicious intent on the defendant’s part.  Also, if the defendant destroyed the property to save someone’s life, such as breaking a window in a burning house, then there is no intent to do a wrongful act or annoy someone.


2.  The defendant owned the property that was destroyed or was given consent to destroy the property.  (However, pursuant to Penal Code section 594(a), when a person vandalizes real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings or public property, then it is inferred that the defendant neither owned the property nor had permission to vandalize it).

Even if there is no valid defense to vandalism, our office can negotiate a reduction of the charges and penalties with the prosecution.

Other DUI Consequences

Not only can a vandalism conviction lead to criminal penalties and a driving license suspension, but it can also have professional licensing and immigration consequences.  Many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors,  nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stock brokers, all require background checks.  A professional who has a vandalism conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place.  Perhaps the most severe impact of a vandalism conviction involves immigration consequences.   Although most vandalism convictions don’t have immigration consequences, there are some types of vandalism convictions that can have drastic immigration consequences.  Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with a green card, or temporary visitors with a visa, can be denied admission or naturalization or even deported, with certain vandalism convictions on their record.

The Right Lawyer

Choosing the right vandalism defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing vandalism charges.  Many people who face vandalism charges are good people who made a mistake or exercised poor judgment.  There are also some people who have been wrongfully accused of vandalism, based on a misunderstanding or false evidence.  You need a vandalism defense attorney who will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly, who will negotiate with the judge and the District Attorney’s office skillfully, and who will fight in trial aggressively.  You need attorney Fred Thiagarajah.

As a former Deputy District Attorney, Fred Thiagarajah has the negotiating skills and trial experience necessary to get the best results for his clients.  For an example of his work, please see his case results and read his client testimonials.  With criminal defense offices in Newport Beach, Beverly Hills and Riverside, Fred Thiagarajah has DUI defense experience in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties.

Fred Thiagarajah – The Right Lawyer.  The Right Result.  The Right Choice.


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