What are the penalties for aggravated vandalism?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have received a citation for aggravated vandalism for keying a vehicle.  the keying was done when I became upset due to a person opening their rear passenger door, hitting my vehicle and causing a scratch.  The damage to the person’s vehicle is in the neighborhood of $100. What might I expect for a verdict against me if I plead no contest?” 

What is vandalism?

Vandalism is a criminal offense and includes any action that a person takes to destroy, alter, or deface someone else’s property. Common types of vandalism include graffiti, egging someone’s car, tearing up someone’s house, smashing windows, defacing public property, or damaging their car.

Although some individuals might claim that certain types of vandalism, such as graffiti, is art. Vandalizing someone else’s property, regardless of the reason, is illegal and not only lowers the property value but is a criminal offense.

What is the purpose of laws to outlaw vandalism?

All states have some type of laws or statutes that outline activities which are deemed vandalism. The specific criminal charge you might face if you engage in these types of activities can include malicious trespass, criminal damage, or malicious mischief.

State laws vary with some states expressly outlining actions which are illegal and the specific types of property which cannot be vandalized (i.e. churches, schools, and other personal property).

The goal of vandalism laws is to prohibit the wanton destruction of public and private property, actions which costs the government and private property owners millions of dollars each year. Vandalism laws may also be used to protect certain groups of people (i.e. making it illegal to burn a church down).

What are the penalties for vandalism?

Now, you asked what penalties you might face for your vandalism charge. Vandalism can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The type of charge you face will depend both on the laws in your state and also the value of the property you vandalized.

For example, if you are charged with criminal mischief in Texas, which means you acted unintentionally but negligently, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if the damage is more than $50 but less than $500. You also can be required to spend no more than 180 days in county jail.

You mentioned, however, that your actions were intentional, which might be why you were charged with aggravated vandalism. The penalties you will face will be determined by the laws in your state.

If convicted of vandalism you can face fines, imprisonment, jail or both. The state may also require you to repair the damage or have the damage repaired, an action referred to as restitution. 

Should I plead guilty to the charges?

You also asked if you should plead no contest to the vandalism charges. Before making this decision you need to contact a criminal defense lawyer. Pleading guilty to a criminal charge, especially a felony charge, can have severe long-term consequences.

While your charge may not be a felony, individuals charged with felonies may lose the right to vote, the right to bear arms, and lessen their chances of finding certain types of employment.

Bottom Line:

The destruction of anyone else’s property for any reason is considered a criminal offense. Even if you are not convicted, however, property owners may still have the right to file a civil lawsuit against you to recover compensation for their property loss. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions.

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