The term vandalism refers to the unlawful damage or destruction of someone's property. Other terms such as malicious mischief, criminal mischief, or malicious damage (used in Massachusetts) are used interchangeably to describe this property crime.
In Massachusetts, malicious damage or an act of vandalism can cover a range of misdeeds, including: tire slashing, graffiti, or defacing a mural. However, the actual charges and penalties will depend on the perpetrator's state of mind at the time of the offense.
Intent in Massachusetts Vandalism Crimes
If you destroy or damage another's property "willfully and maliciously," you have committed vandalism with ill will and the intent to do harm and you can be charged with "willful destruction of property," a felony offense. However, if you acted "wantonly" (recklessly and without ill intention), then you can face lesser vandalism misdemeanor charges.
A Summary of Massachusetts Vandalism Laws
While it's important to understand everything that a statute says, it's also helpful for comprehension to refer to a condensed version of the text. Read on for a plain language summary of vandalism laws in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts General Laws
Note: Massachusetts has numerous statutes that address vandalism. This chart includes several relevant statutes, but is not exhaustive.
Property valued over $250 is punishable by:
Property valued under $250 is punishable by:
Penalties for other Vandalism Offenses
Graffiti: Willfully or maliciously painting, marking, or otherwise defacing someone's property (including but not limited to a wall, fence, building, sign, rock, monument, gravestone or tablet) is penalized by up to 3 years in prison and/or fines, including possibly paying for graffiti removal.
Tagging: Painting or signing your name, initials or other designation to another's property. Because of the common connection with gang activity, this offense is punishable by a maximum 2 years in prison, fine up to $1,500, less than three times the property damage.
Vehicle Damage: felony offense, with maximum penalties of up to 15 years in prison, fines up to $5,000.
Destruction of Certain Buildings:
For willful, intentional or wanton destruction or defacement of certain building types, the punishment is more severe.
Property value exceeds $5,000: Punishable by incarceration up to 5 years, fines of three times the amount of the damage.
Property value less than $5,000: Punishable by up to 2.5 years in jail, fines of $2,000 or three times the amount of damage, whichever is greater.
Malicious property damage that constitutes a "hate crime" can trigger additional charges and civil liability. The criminal penalty is up to 2.5 years in prison if an individual damages property with the intent to intimidate someone based on the following:
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.
Massachusetts Vandalism Laws: Related Resources
Discuss Vandalism Charges with a Defense Attorney
If you're accused of violating of Massachusetts' vandalism laws, you shouldn't take the charges lightly. A conviction can result in substantial harm to your livelihood, reputation, and even time behind bars. Contact an experienced Massachusetts attorney to discuss the facts of your case and mount a solid defense.
Contact a qualified attorney.