Vandalism and Property Damage
Vandalism and malicious property damage are criminal offenses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These are actually some of the most common property damage offenses. Whether it involves someone tagging a wall with spray paint, or smashing the car window of an ex-partner, the penalties can range from a simple fine to jail time and a criminal record. Even where no one was physically injured, the state considers crime against property to be serious offenses.
Vandalism vs. Malicious Property Damage
Massachusetts law differentiates vandalism from malicious property damage, although there may be some overlap between the two charges. The criminal charge may also differ depending on the type of property damaged. There are a few statutes involving property damage.
Malicious Destruction of Property: It is against the law to destroy or injure the personal property, house or building in any manner. The criminal charge will depend on if the destruction was done maliciously or wantonly. "Wantonly" generally refers to a reckless or conscious disregard to the likelihood of causing substantial harm or damage. "Malice" refers to damage done out of hostility, revenge, or cruelty. Property can included electronic data, such as computer files.
This could include a simple lapse of judgment or angry outburst that results in a smashed window, broken lawn ornament, or even deleted emails.
Malicious Damage of a Motor Vehicle: Stealing a car can be treated similarly to malicious damage of a stolen car. It is a violation to maliciously damage a motor vehicle or trailer. As above, malicious damage means damage done out of hostility, cruelty or revenge.
Tagging: It is unlawful to spray or apply paint on public or private property. This is commonly known as "tagging." It applies to individuals, or groups of taggers. This can even include placing stickers on stop signs, other traffic signs, windows or other property.
Defacement or Vandalism: It is a crime to intentionally and maliciously deface or destroy the personal property of another. This includes painting, marking, scratching, etching or other marks. Property includes walls, buildings, signs, monuments, gravestones, and even rocks.
However, where the vandalism or defacement is motivated by a bias against a person's race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, it can be elevated to a "hate crime."
Vandalism and Property Damage Penalties
Penalties for property destruction will depend on the circumstances of the individual case. Depending on the facts, these crimes may be charged as felonies or misdemeanors.
Vandalism can be charged as a felony, with up to three years in jail, and fines of up to three times the value of the property vandalized. Malicious damage of a motor vehicle carries the possibility of up to two and a half (2 ½) years in jail, and a fine of up to $15,000. Tagging similarly has the possible penalty of up to two and a half (2 ½) years in jail, and fines of up to three times the value of the property.
The penalties for malicious damage will depend on the value of the property damaged. Both wanton and malicious destruction convictions can carry a fine of up to three times the value of the property damage and prison of up to two and a half (2 ½) years. However, where the damage is less than $250 in value, the maximum prison time is lowered to two and a half (2 ½) months.
If a war or veterans' memorial or gravestone is defaced, the defendant will be charged with paying double the value of the damage, and be forced to perform a minimum of 500 hours of community service.
In addition to the prison time and fines associated with these crimes, they also care the possibility of a suspended driver's license. For example, vandalism, tagging or malicious damage charges will result in a one year suspension. If the individual is under the age of 16, then they will be prevented from driving for an additional year from the age of driving eligibility.
Defenses to Vandalism and Property Damage Charges
The defenses available to a vandalism, tagging, or malicious property damage charge will depend on the individual case. This could include insufficient evidence, mistaken identity or countering the value of the damage involved to reduce the charge. A lawyer with experience defending people charged with property damage will be able to address the serious allegations facing their client.