California Vandalism Laws

California vandalism laws punish activities that damage, destroy, or deface with graffiti or other inscribed material any real or personal property owned by someone else. This damage must be malicious, which means that only intentional acts of destruction, damage, or graffiti are punished.

Graffiti Materials

In addition to the laws against vandalism itself there are associated prohibitions. California law bans:

  • selling, giving, or otherwise providing a minor with any etching cream or aerosol container of paint capable of defacing property without first obtaining evidence of majority and identity;
  • the purchase or possession of etching creams or aerosol containers of paint by a minor;
  • the open carrying of etching cream or aerosol containers of paint in public areas without valid authorization;
  • possession of a masonry or glass drill bit, carbide drill bit, glass cutter, grinding stone, awl, chisel, carbide scribe, aerosol paint can, felt tip marker, or any other marking substance with the intent to commit graffiti.

The violation of these prohibitions is a misdemeanor. All include provisions permitting community service or graffiti cleanup activities in addition to the usual misdemeanor punishments.

Vandalism Overview

The following is an overview of California vandalism laws:

Statutes California Penal Code, Part 1, Title 14, Malicious Mischief
Penalties

California vandalism laws punish differently depending on the value of the property damage as follows:

  • Damage of $10,000 or more is punishable with a fine of up to $50,000 or by both a fine and imprisonment in a county jail or prison for up to a year;
  • Damage of $400-$10,000 is punishable with a jail or prison term of up to a year or a fine of up to $10,000;
  • Damage of less than $400, where the defendant has a prior vandalism conviction, is punishable with imprisonment in the county jail for up to a year, by a fine of up to $5,000, or both;
  • Damage of less than $400 is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail of up to a year, by a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
  • Any conviction for vandalism shall, where appropriate and feasible, in addition to other punishments, include an order for the defendant and his parents or guardians (where they are a minor) to clean, repair, or replace damaged property personally and keep it, or another specified property in the community, free of graffiti for up to a year.
Enhancements

Some acts of vandalism are considered to be more serious than others. The following circumstances can result in enhanced penalties:

  • vandalism to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other building owned and occupied by a religious institution, including cemeteries;
  • vandalism where the act is shown to have been a hate crime committed for the purpose of intimidating and deterring a person from free exercise of their religious beliefs;
  • the use of butyric acid or other noxious or caustic chemicals.

Furthermore, those previously convicted of vandalism on two or more separate occasions and incarcerated on at least one occasion shall be punished by imprisonment in county jail or state prison for up to a year.

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. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

Get a Legal Review of Your Vandalism Charges

If you have been accused of vandalism you may be subjected to stiff fines, long terms of community service, and even imprisonment. If your child was accused of vandalism they may face punishment, but you may be also. Parents can be forced to pay fines and participate in graffiti cleanup efforts. Regardless of the circumstances, a vandalism conviction can be an embarrassment. Consider getting a free evaluation of your legal situation by a local attorney.

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