California Penal Code 594(a) states in part: “Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism: (1) Defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material. (2) Damages. (3) Destroys.”
If the amount of damages are $400.00 or more then the charges can be a felony. If $400.00 or less, it is a misdemeanor. In either case, the court can as a term of probation require the defendant to clean up or repair or replace the damaged property himself or herself. This is usually ordered in graffiti type cases. When the property damaged is a vehicle or some other property requiring expert repair, the defendant is responsible for paying for those repairs as a term of probation.
Being convicted of vandalism also impacts the driver’s license. California Vehicle Code 13202.6 (a)(1) states: “For every conviction of a person for a violation of Section 594 of the Penal Code, committed while the person was 13 years of age or older, the court shall suspend the person’s driving privilege for not more than two years, except when the court finds that a personal or family hardship exists that requires the person to have a driver’s license…” This is extremely burdensome and as such anyone charged with this crime should consult with an attorney.
A vandalism conviction should be avoided at all costs. It is possible to resolve a vandalism charge in ways that don’t result in a conviction and license suspension. Penal Code 1377 and 1378 allow for a “civil compromise” in which the accused pays the victim money for the damages to his or her property and if the victim notifies the court in writing or in person that they have been compensated in full and both the prosecutor and the judge agree to dismiss the case, then the case will be dismissed and the defendant will avoid both jail, probation and suspension of driving privilege.
Like any other crime, vandalism does require knowledge and intent. You can’t accidentally commit vandalism, and if it is just an accident, you may be civilly liable for damages but will not be charged with a crime. Always consult with a professional criminal attorney when you aren’t sure.