What is Considered Vandalism in San Diego?


Vandalism may not seem like a serious crime. After all, doesn’t it simply refer to innocent graffiti on a wall or some teenage fun? The reality is that vandalism can be a felony in the state of California, carrying with it hefty fines, jail time and a mark on your permanent record. 

If you have been charged with vandalism in San Diego, it is important that you understand the charges against you and in which circumstances you can be charged with a felony. A skilled attorney can assist you in planning a strong defense and help you throughout the complicated legal process. 

What is Vandalism?

Vandalism is defined under California Penal Code 594. It states: 

“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
  • Destroys

Whenever a person violates the subdivision with respect to real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings, or property belonging to any public entity or the federal government, it shall be a permissive inference that the person neither owned the property nor had the permission of the owner to deface, damage, or destroy the property.”

Under the law, graffiti is defined as: “any unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark, or design, that is written, marked, etched, scratched, drawn, or painted on real or personal property.”

Based on this definition, there are many actions that could qualify as vandalism under the California law. Some common examples include:

  • Keying a neighbor’s car
  • Slashing the tires of an ex’s car
  • Breaking windows of a vehicle, home or other structure
  • Writing with permanent marker on a public bench
  • Writing your name in newly poured cement 
  • Carving your initials on a public space
  • Spray painting on the wall of a building
  • Acts of arson
  • Defacing stop signs

Critical Elements of a Vandalism Charge

While the definition of vandalism clearly describes what can be included under a charge of vandalism, there are specific elements that must be met in order to be convicted of the crime. 

Intention: The defendant must have acted maliciously, meaning that the act was done on purpose and with bad intentions. Accidental damage that is done to another person's property is not considered vandalism. However, the perpetrator may be liable for the damages and required to pay for them by the court.

Ownership: The property that was damaged must be owned by another person or public entity. The prosecutor must show that the defendant does not in fact own or have a right to the property in question.

Damage: For a vandalism conviction to occur, the prosecutor must prove that damage or destruction was done to the property. 

Possible Defenses for a Vandalism Charge

Because vandalism charges can come with jail time and fines, you should secure the services of an experienced and tenacious criminal defense attorney. By working with your attorney, you can explore the facts of your specific case to understand your possible defenses. Remember, the prosecutor must prove that the vandalism caused damage to property that the defendant did not own and that the act was intentional.

Your defense attorney may be able to argue that the damage did occur; however, the damage was accidental and that you did not have the intention to damage or destroy the property. Another possible defense to a vandalism charge is that you were falsely fingered as the suspect. Many times, witnesses or victims of a crime may misidentify a perpetrator in the heat of the moment. Another possible defense may be that law enforcement did not follow proper procedure during your arrest. The facts of your specific case will help your San Diego criminal defense attorney identify your strongest defenses. 

Every vandalism case is different, but they share one thing in common. If you or someone you love has been charged with vandalism in San Diego, it is in your best interest to hire a strong criminal defense attorney to work on your behalf. Navigating the legal system can be challenging. Add to it the stress and frustration of dealing with an arrest and the possible repercussions of a conviction, and it can make for a very stressful situation.

The Law Office of Joni Eisenstein has been representing clients facing vandalism and other San Diego property crime charges since 2003. Joni Eisenstein can help you understand the charges against you, navigate the San Diego legal system and get the best results possible for your situation. 

Charged with San Diego vandalism? Contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today to schedule your free consultation with our experienced and prominent San Diego vandalism defense attorney.