What You Need to Know About Vandalism Laws

Vandalism is much more than a little wall art. A conviction can lead to hefty fines and jail time. Learn more about vandalism laws in California and the possible defenses available to you.

When you hear the word “vandalism,” what comes to mind? If your first thought is graffiti on a wall, then you are not alone. While that is the kind of mischief that is commonly associated with vandalism, the crime itself is much more complex. If you or a loved one is facing vandalism charges in San Diego County, it is important that you understand the charges against you. An experienced vandalism defense attorney can help you navigate your charges and the complex legal system, ensuring that your rights are protected.  

What is Vandalism? 

According to California Penal Code 594 (a), “every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism: defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material; damages; or, destroys.” 

Many people associate vandalism with rather minor activities including: 

  • Tagging a wall
  • Carving your initials into a park bench
  • Breaking a window of a car or building
  • Keying a vehicle 
  • Writing your name on a bathroom stall

However, vandalism also encompasses a wide variety of more serious offenses that could be considered felonies depending on the circumstances of the case. Acts of vandalism that cause harm to another person, extensive property damage or are affiliated with gang activity can come with harsh penalties.  

Schedule your free consultation today. Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Joni Eisenstein.

The Elements of Vandalism 

In order to be convicted of vandalism, the prosecution bears the burden of proving three elements: intention, damage and ownership. 


In order for an act to be considered vandalism, it must be intentional. Accidental damage to another person’s property is not a crime. However, the defendant may be required to pay for the damages or replace the damaged property.  


The law requires that there must be physical damage or defacement to the property.  


The prosecutor must show that the damaged property was in fact owned by another person and that the owner did not give permission to the defendant to damage the property. 

Penalties for Vandalism 

Vandalism is typically a misdemeanor charge, but in some cases it can be a felony. Very often other charges are included with a vandalism charge, which could make the consequences much more serious. For example, spray painting a racial slur on a mosque may result in both vandalism and hate crime charges. 

Defendants who are found guilty of vandalism in which the damage is less than $400 could face the following penalties: 

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to 1 year;
  • A fine of less than $1,000; or, 
  • Both a fine and imprisonment 

Offenses that involve property damage of more than $400 may face the following penalties: 

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to 1 year;
  • A fine of up to $10,000; 
  • Both a fine and imprisonment 

If the damage is more than $10,000, the defendant could face jail time and a fine of up to $50,000. 

Vandalism Defenses in California 

The consequences of a conviction are serious and include hefty fines and possible jail time. With the counsel of a strong criminal defense attorney, there are a number of defenses that could be available to you depending on the circumstances of your case and the strength of the evidence against you. A knowledgeable attorney will explore the potential for a claim of mistaken identity. Other possible defenses may include: 

  • The owner consented to the vandalism 
  • The damage was done accidentally
  • The damage was not done to the other party’s property
  • There is insufficient evidence 

Contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein to Fight Your Vandalism Charges 

If you or a loved one is facing charges for vandalism in San Diego County, contact the seasoned criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein. With comprehensive experience in the San Diego courts, Ms. Eisenstein will fight on your behalf and work hard to get you the results you want in your case. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your San Diego vandalism case, call 760-721-3161 today.   

If you are on the fence about hiring a defense attorney, stop thinking about it, and do it now

Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Joni Eisenstein can help you go from a place of uncertainty to freedom.