Graffiti is the act of scratching, etching, painting, or other form of writing/drawing on the surface of someone else’s property. It is often associated with tagging.
Graffiti and vandalism require malice and intent. If the damage was done accidentally and unintentionally, you cannot be charged with vandalism, but may be civilly liable to the property owner and you would still need to pay for the damage.
Graffiti laws differ in each jurisdiction. For example, some states have comprehensive graffiti programs that include education and community involvement as prevention, as well as traditional punishments. Other jurisdictions place graffiti under the umbrella of vandalism laws.
What Are the Punishments for Graffiti?
The punishments for graffiti also differ in each jurisdiction and can include a fine, jail time, community service, and alternative punishments based on the situation. However, in almost all cases the defendant must pay or work to fix the property damage associated with the graffiti. If the defendant is under a certain age, the judge may use sentencing options for juveniles. Additionally, there may be different penalties for gang-related graffiti.
The penalties in many states vary depending on the damage that is done on the property and the dollar value required to restore the property back to it’s original condition. The usual penalties for graffiti may include:
- Property Damage exceeding $400: 1-3 years and /or fine of up to $10,000 or more depending on the severity of the damage.
- Property Damage less than $400: punishable by a misdemeanor with penalties of up to 1 year In county jail and/or maximum of $1,000 fine.
Some jurisdictions also have "responsible retailer" laws that require store owners to keep graffiti tools in places where they are less likely to be stolen. For example, in some areas spray cans and wide-tip markers must be displayed only in places visible to employees at all times.
What Are the Defenses for Graffiti and Vandalism Charges?
Depending on the facts of the case, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to reduce or dismiss a graffiti or vandalism charge. Common defenses to a vandalism charge include:
- The damage that was done on the property was done by somebody else
- The damage was not intentional and occurred by accident
- The property owner gave consent to paint or use graffiti on the private property
- Mistaken identity
Some cities and property owners have sanctioned artists to create murals in order to keep graffiti off of their walls. Artists must have permission from the building owner and in many places the city in order to create a mural on someone else’s building.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you or someone you know has been arrested for graffiti, then you will likely want to hire a criminal defense attorney to defend you. A lawyer will be able to explain all of your options and create a strategy for your defense.