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When Does Vandalism Become a Felony?


12/11/2019

Most people consider vandalism to be a petty crime that carries light consequences. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania aggressively prosecutes crimes against property. As a result, you could wind up facing felony vandalism charges that carry heavy prison sentences and thousands of dollars in fines. Understanding these charges and how to defend yourself is the key to getting a fair result.

If you’re facing felony vandalism charges, you need someone on your side who will fight for your rights. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer understands the law and knows how to challenge the prosecution’s case. To learn more about how she can help you, contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 to schedule a free consultation today.

Vandalism Under Pennsylvania Law

Generally speaking, vandalism is included under Pennsylvania’s criminal mischief laws. Under Pennsylvania law, you can face vandalism charges for the following actions:

  • Intentionally causing damage to the property of another by fire, explosives, or other dangerous means.
  • Tampering with someone’s property so as to endanger that person or their property.
  • Causing another person to lose money by deception or threat.
  • Defacing another person’s property with graffiti.
  • Causing any intentional damage to the property of another.
  • Intentionally defacing property with a paintball gun.

Most crimes of vandalism are charged as misdemeanor offenses, but the severity of the crime will typically vary according to the dollar value of the damage caused.

Felony Criminal Mischief

While vandalism is typically a misdemeanor charge, vandalism can be a third-degree felony charge in the following circumstances:

  • You intentionally caused damage to another person’s property; AND
  • The damage resulted in a loss of $5,000 or more; OR
  • The vandalism resulted in a substantial disruption of public transportation or services

In light of the current cost of labor and materials, $5,000 worth of damage is less than you might think. As a result, a felony vandalism charge is more likely than you might expect. For example, vandalizing someone’s car could easily result in more than $5,000 and a felony vandalism charge.

The last scenario – disruption of public transportation or services – is also worth considering. You could face a felony vandalism charge if you damaged property that disrupts bus or train services. Similarly, causing damage that interrupts electric, water, or other utilities could also result in a felony vandalism charge.

Institutional Vandalism

While Pennsylvania’s criminal mischief laws address most instances of vandalism, Pennsylvania does have some specific vandalism laws that apply in unique situations. 18 Pa. C.S. §3307 defines the crime of institutional vandalism, which includes causing damage to the following types of property:

  • Any place that is used for religious worship or other purposes (churches, synagogues, and temples)
  • Schools, community centers, courthouses, government buildings, and government vehicles

Institutional vandalism can include damage to any personal property or land adjacent to any of the above facilities.

Institutional vandalism can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Similar to criminal mischief, you will face a third-degree felony institutional felony vandalism charge if you caused more than $5,000 worth of damage.

You can also face a third-degree vandalism charge, regardless of the value of loss of property, if the damage constitutes “desecration.” Desecration is defined as “defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way” that you know “will outrage the sensibilities” of anyone who is likely to see the vandalism. For example, you could face a felony vandalism charge for painting a swastika on a school – you have defaced public property, and the swastika is likely to be extremely upsetting for most anyone who sees it. You would be charged with a felony even if the damage to the building was less than $5,000.

Agricultural Vandalism

Pennsylvania also makes it a third-degree felony to intentionally or recklessly cause damage to any property or equipment that is used in farming.

The Potential Consequences of a Felony Vandalism Charge

If you are arrested and charged with felony vandalism, you could face the following penalties:

  • Up to seven years in the Pennsylvania state prison
  • Up to $15,000 in fines

Many people are shocked to discover that they face such heavy consequences as the result of a momentary lapse in judgment. In addition to years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines, you will also have a felony conviction on your record. Your conviction could not only do damage to your reputation among your friends and family but may also make it difficult to get a job or find a place to live.

Defending Against Felony Vandalism Charges

Because the consequences can be so severe, it’s important to mount an aggressive defense. You need to understand how the law applies to your case, what facts will be relevant, what the prosecution can prove and what they can’t, and what arguments will be persuasive to the prosecutor, judge, or jury. Some of the defenses that may be available to you are as follows:

  • Lack of intent. Certain vandalism charges require that you acted intentionally or recklessly. You may be able to avoid conviction if you can prove that the damage was the result of simple carelessness or ordinary negligence.
  • Consent. You cannot be convicted of vandalism if the owner gave their consent. For example, if your neighbor asked you to tear down their shed, they could not later accuse you of vandalism. Many vandalism charges can arise from a belief that the owner gave consent, but the consent was unclear.
  • Mistake in ownership. Using the example of the shed above, perhaps your neighbor was mistaken, and the shed actually belonged to his neighbor. In that situation, you may be able to avoid conviction by demonstrating that you did not have the requisite intent because you thought you had the owner’s consent. Similarly, you may be able to avoid conviction if you had good reason to believe that the property was yours.
  • Mistaken identity. It’s not uncommon for the property to misidentify the vandal or even falsely accuse someone out for personal reasons.

Charged with Felony Vandalism? Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Don’t leave your future in the hands of the judge and the prosecution. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer will fight for your rights and help you get a fair outcome. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can help – simply call us at 215-712-1212 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.