Penal Code 594 Vandalism Explained

December 15, 2010

Elements of the Crime

In order to be convicted of California Penal Code Section 594, vandalism, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person:

1) maliciously
2) defaced, destroyed, or damaged
3) the property of another.

To act “maliciously” means that the person acted with the intent to cause the damage or defacement. Doing an act which accidentally causes damage, like bumping into a precariously perched vase at a department store and knocking it over, is not vandalism. However, acts will not be considered accidents if, as your mom would say, “you should have known better.” Claiming that you were aiming for a bird when you throw a rock through an office window will not be considered an accident, even if you really were… because you should have known better.

To “deface” property, a person merely needs to make any sort of unauthorized writing, marking, figure, or scratch. It does not need to be permanent. This includes graffiti, scratching initials on a wooden table, writing in a bathroom stall, and technically could even include having a pickle race by throwing them on a glass window (although prosecution in that case is unlikely). Further, property does not have to be destroyed, or even permanently damaged. Even using marker on a glass window, which can be easily washed, can be considered vandalism.

The property of another includes public property or property of which you are the joint owner. This means if you share a home, come home drunk one night, and rip the door off the hinges, you can be found guilty of vandalism. Further, property includes not just personal property but things such as land, buildings, and landscaping like flowers, bushes, and trees.


Vandalism can be charged in several different ways, mainly based on the amount of the damage.


If you have defaced (but not damaged or destroyed) property of another, the damage is less than $250, and you have not previously been convicted for a vandalism crime, you may be charged with an infraction. You may be fined up to a maximum of $1,000 and will probably be required to do some community service. The court may also order the defendant (and/or his or her parents) to keep specified property in the community free of graffiti for up to 180 days.


If you are convicted of maliciously defacing, damaging, or destroying less than $400 of property of another, you can be convicted of misdemeanor vandalism. A sentence for misdemeanor vandalism generally consists of up to three years informal probation, up to one year of county jail, up to $1,000 fine, a one year suspension of your driver’s license (or a delay of one year if you have not received it), counseling and/or community service, and personally cleaning, repairing, replacing, or cleaning the damaged property or keeping specified property in the community free of graffiti for up to a year.


When the damages to the vandalized property are $400 or more, the prosecutor has the option of charging the crime as either a felony or misdemeanor. Consideration will be given to the circumstances of the crime and your personal criminal history to make this determination.

In addition, even if the damage to the property is less than $400, you may be charged with a felony under certain circumstances, such as if you vandalize a church or use caustic chemicals. If the vandalism can be categorized as a hate crime, it will automatically be charged as a felony.

A felony conviction will subject a person to the terms described above, as well as a state prison sentence of 16 months, two, or three years, a fine of up to $10,000, and formal probation.

If you have been charged with vandalism, contact the Law Office of Scott R. Ball today for a free and confidential evaluation of your case.

Get Help Now! Call Scott:

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