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What Is Vandalism?

June 17, 2015

An unidentified burglar recently broke into and vandalized a branch of the post office in Davie, Florida. The man entered through the rear of the post office and appeared to be looking for something, but it remains unclear what, if anything, was stolen. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. Because the crime was committed in a post office, the vandalism is a federal offense.


Vandalism, also known as criminal mischief, occurs when a person willfully and maliciously injures or damages another’s property. It applies to both personal property and to real property, such as a house or business. Graffiti is a common type of vandalism, but the law prohibits other types of damage, as well. The offense of vandalism is commonly committed by juveniles.

In order to convict a defendant of vandalism, the prosecution must prove that:

  • The defendant damaged property
  • The property belonged to another
  • The damage was done willfully and maliciously

Willful and malicious means that the defendant must have acted intentionally and without any valid excuse or justification. It does not include mere accidents, or every car accident would constitute vandalism. It also does not include damage done for a good reason. For example, if a juvenile gets locked out of his parents’ house and picks the lock to get back in, but damages the door, that would not constitute criminal mischief. This is because the damage was not done maliciously, but because the juvenile’s purpose was to get back into his house.


Vandalism charges range from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies. The seriousness of the charge depends on the amount of the damage and what kind of property was damaged.

Criminal mischief is a second-degree misdemeanor if the damage was $200 or less, and a first-degree misdemeanor if it was between $200 and $1,000. It is a third-degree felony if the damage was over $1,000, if the damage caused a business or public utility to be interrupted or impaired and it cost $1,000 to repair, or if the offender has prior vandalism convictions. Damage to specific types of property may also give rise to a third-degree felony vandalism charge:

  • Places of worship
  • Public telephones or any associated equipment
  • Sexually violent predator detention or commitment facilities

In addition to imprisonment, probation, or fines, those convicted of vandalism must also pay for the damage. If the vandalism was graffiti, an offender must pay a fine of $250 to $1,000, depending on how many prior vandalism convictions he or she has. Offenders who have placed graffiti must also complete at least forty hours of community service.

For minors who have committed vandalism, the court will revoke or withhold a driver’s license for up to one year. Parents of minors who commit criminal mischief are liable, with their children, for the payment of fines.

If you have been charged with vandalism, an attorney can help you put together your best defense and make sure you are not unjustly convicted. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.

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