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Accused of Vandalism: How to Bring a Defense

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By George Khoury, Esq. on November 10, 2016 5:58 AM

So you decided to throw some eggs during Halloween and now you're facing vandalism charges. Unfortunately, despite your desire to express your opinion through the hurling of eggs, there's no freedom of egg-spression in this country. Throwing an egg can actually land you with a vandalism charge and leave you asking: how do I defend myself against a vandalism charge?

The bad news is that there really isn't much you can do if you were caught in the act, or if there is surveillance footage clearly implicating you. Unless you have an attorney telling you the evidence against you is not strong enough, there's a good chance your best way out of trouble is via a plea bargain to a lesser charge or a civil compromise. The way vandalism is charged varies from state to state, and may even vary depending on the value of the property defaced or destroyed, as well as the cost to clean or repair the property.

Defenses in Vandalism Cases

If you were caught throwing an egg, keying a car, painting a mural, or destroying a piece of police car while being arrested, you can probably expect a vandalism charge to follow. Vandalism is an intentional crime. This means that if you accidentally dropped an egg, or accidentally sprayed some paint on a wall, or didn't mean to destroy the property of another, you cannot be found guilty for vandalism. As you may have picked up, it's highly unlikely that vandalism is done unintentionally, and as such, this defense rarely works.

One of the more frequently brought vandalism charges occurs after an arrest and an arrestee does something to damage the police car, such as denting a fender, the partition between the front and back seat, or the windows. These charges can often be contested as unintentional depending on the circumstances, but they are generally brought as companion charges, and may make defending criminal charges more complex.

Another common defense to vandalism charges is mistaken identity. This defense is frequently asserted for companions to street/graffiti artists, or when a defendant was with a group, or mistaken for a different batman also carrying an empty egg carton on Halloween, and did not actual commit any acts of vandalism. The caveat is that lookouts and helpers may be charged as accomplices.

Outcomes in Vandalism Cases

Like most property crimes, vandalism can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, both of which are serious and can result in jail time, even for juveniles. While the law varies from state to state, typically, the outcome in a vandalism case will depend on the defendant's prior record and the severity of the destruction or defacing.

For defendants that have not had prior vandalism charges or convictions, criminal charges can be dropped in exchange for a defendant entering a civil compromise, if a DA is amenable. That's when a defendant agrees to pay fines and for the clean-up or restoration of the damaged property. If the value of the property or clean-up exceeds a certain limit in some states, criminal charges may be more difficult to avoid.

Plea bargaining to lesser charges may be advisable, and can be made more enticing to a DA if offers to clean-up or pay for restoration are made in conjunction with a plea to a lesser charge. When negotiating a plea deal, having an experienced criminal defense attorney represent you could be the best decision you make.

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