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Vandalism is an offense that occurs when a person destroys or degrades the property of others without authorization. The effects of vandalism can include graffiti, broken windows, damage to vehicles, and maybe the destruction of a person’s website. In addition, the results of vandalism can be found on traffic signs, billboards, cemeteries, building structures, tunnels, near bus stops, and many other public spaces.

Although vandalism may be considered “art” by some, it is nonetheless a property crime punishable by prison terms, monetary fines, or both.

What Constitutes Vandalism?

Vandalism is a broad crime that is used to describe a variety of behaviors. In general, vandalism includes any deliberate behavior to destroy, alter, or degrade property belonging to another.

Common behaviors that can lead to charges of vandalism include:

  • Spray painting another’s property with the purpose of defacing
  • “Egging” someone’s car or window
  • Keying (or scratching) paint off of someone’s car
  • Breaking someone’s windows
  • Defacing public property with graffiti and other forms of “art”
  • Slashing someone’s tires
  • Defacing park benches
  • Altering or knocking down street signs
  • Kicking and damaging someone’s property with your hands or feet, and several other behaviors.

In addition, a person who has the means to commit vandalism, including possession of a drill bit, glass cutter, or any other substance, may also face charges of vandalism in certain circumstances (for example, a person under the age of eighteen who carries a spray paint in a park or at school grounds).

Vandalism Laws

Vandalism is covered by state law and varies by state. Some states call vandalism “criminal harm,” “malicious intrusion,” “malicious mischief,” or other terms. To control the effect of vandalism, most states have special laws that can reduce certain forms of vandalism. For example, many states have local “spray container laws” that limit the purchase of spray paint containers or other “vandalism tools” that could be used for graffiti or vandalism.

In addition, some states have laws that prohibit vandalism of certain types of property, such as churches, cars, government facilities, and school property.

In addition, some states have laws that prohibit specific acts of vandalism, such as breaking windows, graffiti, and the use of artificial substances to destroy property.

Purpose Of The Law

Anti-vandalism laws exist to prevent the destruction of public property and spaces. They may also exist to protect against hate crimes and other behavior directed against clerics or minority groups, such as looting a church or synagogue, writing racist or sexist graffiti on school property, or engraving a swastika in a car.

Penalties And Punishment

Depending on the specific condition and the value of the material damage, vandalism is either a crime or a serious crime. The penalties generally include fines, imprisonment in a county jail, or both. In addition, a person accused of vandalism is often ordered to repair, wash or replace damaged property and/or participate in graffiti cleaning programs. In addition, a parent of a minor child may be ordered to pay fines resulting from their child’s vandalism under the theory of “parental responsibility.”

Related Offenses

Vandalism, on its own, is often considered a non-violent crime that generally affects one’s “quality of life” but may escalate to more serious crimes typically involving juveniles, including theft/larceny, burglary, drug possession, disturbing the peace, and other random acts of violence.

Defenses To Vandalism

Defenses against vandalism generally include circumstances that could “mitigate” or result in sanctions, such as indifference, accident, mischief, or creative expression. Even if vandalism is a crime that usually requires the act to be committed, it does not require you to be “caught in the act.” You can be charged with vandalism after the fact if there are witnesses, surveillance, or other evidence that could implicate you in the crime.


Vandalism can cost states millions of dollars each year in cleaning efforts and other program costs and can also cause psychological or emotional harm to homeowners. In addition, when a person degrades, alters, or otherwise destroys a person’s property, he may be required to clean, repair or replace the damaged property or criminal sanctions in the form of prison terms, fines, or both.

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