Arizona Criminal Damage Laws

It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if you tag someone else’s property with unwanted art, symbols, or a message, you may end up with a felony citation for criminal damage.

Known as vandalism in many states, criminal damage occurs when a person destroys or defaces someone else's property without permission. Graffiti is just one example of criminal damage, a crime against property that is punishable by jail time, monetary fines, or both. Effects of criminal damage can include broken windows, graffiti, damage to vehicles or other property, and even damage or destruction of a person's website.

Factors the State Must Prove Against You

Criminal damage is the most commonly charged property crime in Arizona. It requires proof the defendant recklessly, and without express permission did one of the following:

  • Defaced or damaged property of another person.
  • Tampered with another person’s property so it substantially to impair its function or value.
  • Damaged the property of a utility.
  • Parked a vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock access to the only reasonably available water.
  • Drew or inscribed a message, slogan, sign, symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure, or surface, except the ground.

These laws exist to prevent destruction of property and public spaces. But that doesn’t mean the property needs to be significantly damaged for the crime to be committed. The law only requires a physical or visual impairment of any surface for a conviction. There is also no need for proof of intentional damage. Criminal damage can be committed through a reckless action.

Aggravated Criminal Damage

Criminal damage laws also function to protect against hate crimes and other behavior that is directed at religious or minority groups. A heightened charge of “Aggravated Criminal Damages” is charged if the property is part of a school, church, mortuary, or cemetery. Damaging, defacing, or tampering with agricultural property, construction sites, or structure used to obtain metals for recycling will also be charged as aggravated criminal damage. If you commit one of these offenses, your penalties will be higher that those seen in the chart below.

Overview of Criminal Damage Laws

Arizona criminalizes several offenses related to the defacing or damaging of other people’s property. The following chart provides a general overview of the elements, defenses, and penalties related to the crime criminal damage:

Arizona Statute

Statutory Definitions

  • Damage: any physical or visual impairment of any surface.
  • Property of another: property in which any person other than the defendant has an interest, including community property and, for damage caused by theft of scrap metal, the property of other persons damaged directly or indirectly as a result of those acts.

Penalties and Sentences

  • Class 4 Felony if property is valued at $10,000 or more, or belongs to a utility and is valued at more than $5,000. Possible sentence of 1.5 to 3 years in prison.
  • Class 5 Felony if the property is valued at $2,000 or more but less than $10,000, or if the damage is in furtherance of any criminal street gang with the intent to intimidate. Possible sentence of 8 months to 2 years in prison.
  • Class 6 Felony if the property is valued between $1,000 and $2,000. Possible sentence of 6 to 18 months in prison.
  • Class 1 misdemeanor if the property is valued at $250 or more but less than $1,000. Possible sentence of up to 6 months in jail and $750 to $2,500 in fines.
  • Class 2 misdemeanor in all other cases criminal damage. Possible sentence of up to 4 months in jail and $750 in fines.

Defenses

  • Permission
  • Defendant’s Ownership of the Property
  • Mistaken Identity
  • Accident

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. It’s important to verify the laws you’re researching by conducting your own research or consulting with a qualified Arizona criminal defense attorney.

Research the Law

Facing criminal charges? Get a Free Case Review

A charge of criminal damage can result in significant fines, long terms of community service, and even imprisonment. Fortunately, you are innocent in the eyes of the law until proven otherwise. An attorney can help evaluate the evidence against you and develop a strong defense on your behalf. A criminal conviction can have a lasting impact on your life. Receive a free case review from an attorney in your area to better understand your legal options.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.