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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Criminal Damage to Property > Understanding What Vandalism Really Is

Understanding What Vandalism Really Is

We’ve all heard of vandalism, but not everyone knows what it really is. This crime has an interesting history. Way back in 455 A.D., the Roman empire was invaded by a group of Germanic tribesman. The tribesman burned and pillaged their way through the empire. The name of the group? The Vandals. Their actions gave a name to the act of destroying or damaging the property of another and today, the crime of vandalism is on the books in every state.

What It Is

Vandalism occurs when a person willfully destroys or damages the property of another. It covers any physical blemish, defacement or marring of property. Even putting a sticker on someone’s car can count as vandalism. Other common acts include:

  • Carving initials or words into a public bench or tree, writing on a wall or door, otherwise marking an object
  • Keying a car
  • Egging someone’s home or property
  • Knocking down grave markers

Vandalism causes some type of property damage. It doesn’t have to be serious or lack an ability to be repaired, but it may. There are many levels of vandalism, and a person could be charged accordingly.

Elements of Vandalism

There are different components or elements to vandalism. A prosecutor must prove each of these elements to have a successful case. The elements are:

  • Physical Damage. Damage may include carving, etching, tagging, graffiti and other forms of defacement. Damage does not have to be lasting, nor does it have to impact functionality.

  • Ownership. The property that is damaged must be owned by someone else. For example, you can graffiti your own home or vehicle and not be charged with vandalism.

  • Intentionality. You cannot accidentally vandalize property. To be charged with the crime, you must have damaged the property willfully or on purpose. Obviously, it’s hard to “accidentally” spray paint your name on a wall, so this is rarely an issue.

Possible Penalties

Vandalism is not typically a serious crime unless the damaged property was worth several thousand dollars. Most acts of vandalism are charged as misdemeanors and carry relatively minor penalties. That said, the more severe the damage and the more expensive the property, the stiffer the penalties. The most common penalties are:

  • Fines ranging from several hundred dollars to thousands.
  • Restitution to the owner of the property that covers the cost of repairing or removing the damage.
  • Jail time is rare for vandalism but may be given. Sentences can range from a few days in the local jail to several years in prison.
  • Probation is another possibility when a person is convicted of vandalism.

If you have been charged with vandalism in Atlanta, reach out to the offices of Hawkins Spizman Fortas. We will schedule an appointment for a free case evaluation at which time we will advise you of your options. Call today for more information or browse our website to learn about our firm and the types of cases we handle.

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