Any criminal charge can change a person’s life, and vandalism is no exception. Even misdemeanor vandalism charges—charges that involve damage that costs $400 or less to repair or replace—can impact a person’s life for years. What should people know if they face vandalism charges?
How does California law address vandalism?
While most people immediately think of graffiti when they hear the word “vandalism,” California’s Penal Code 594(a) defines vandalism more broadly. Vandalism can include any act in which a person damages, defaces or destroys property that they do not own. This can include drawing in wet cement, throwing or striking another person’s property during an argument, scratching a name into a park bench and a variety of other behaviors.
These charges can easily lead to steep penalties, including probation, community service, and even imprisonment. Penalties can also include up to $1,000 in fines for misdemeanor vandalism charges. Penalties can also increase if a person has other vandalism convictions on their criminal record.
These are not the only challenges that a person may face if they are convicted of a misdemeanor. They may also find it difficult to find housing or employment with this charge on their criminal record. If probation includes a license suspension, they may also find themselves unable to travel where they need to go.
Is diversion an option?
While the penalties for vandalism may be steep under California law, some defendants may be eligible for diversion. This pretrial program can help people have their charges for nonviolent offenses dropped or sealed in favor of treatment courses, education or volunteer work. People struggling with mental health disorders—including veterans—and individuals facing low-level misdemeanor charges for the first time may qualify.
If you or a loved one faces vandalism charges, it can be important to contact an experienced attorney to explore whether diversion is an option in your case. Contacting a lawyer early allows you to explore your legal options and begin building a strong legal strategy.