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Vandalism In The United States: What You Need To Know

Vandalism in Florida is a crime that costs both the government and private landowners millions of dollars each year. Sometimes the perpetrators are caught, oftentimes they are not, and sometimes law enforcement collars people who are not guilty of vandalism and charges them with the crime. Here’s what you need to know about the crime of vandalism in Florida.

In a nutshell, vandalism is the willful destruction, alteration, or defacing of property belonging to another. Frequent methods include spray painting, indelible markers, eggs, and keys. The property need not be totally destroyed.

Every state has laws against vandalism, but many states use terms other than “vandalism”: in Florida, the term the legislature used is “criminal mischief,” while in other jurisdictions terms like “malicious mischief,” “criminal damage,” and “malicious trespass” are used to refer to the act of vandalism.

Ultimately, for a vandalism conviction, the state must prove that

  • The act caused actual damage to the property,
  • the property must have been owned by another person at the time, and
  • the act must have been intentional.

Damage need not have been complete or even partial destruction of property, and the defendant must not have had permission to do the damage to the property. Additionally, accidentally damaging property does not meet the definition of vandalism, as the destruction must have been an intentional act.

Depending upon the state and the severity of the crime, a vandalism conviction may be either a misdemeanor or a felony. In Florida, most instances of vandalism that result in less than $1,000 are misdemeanors and could result in a jail sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $1,000.

However, if the damage is greater than $1,000, or the vandalism interrupts business, communication, transportation, or other important activities, a conviction becomes a felony, which could yield a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of up to $5,000. If the act is done to a place of worship and causes more than $200 in damage, a conviction is also a felony with similar available penalties.

In addition to incarceration and fines, many jurisdictions may also sentence a defendant found guilty of vandalism to restitution, which may include repairing or replacing the property that was damaged. The defendant may also be assigned to a program of cleaning up graffiti in a neighborhood.

If the property in question belongs to the Federal government, the crime then becomes a federal crime and is tried in federal court. Federal government property is more than just buildings, too. Parks, historic sites, and a site being built for the federal government is considered federal property as well. Penalties for a conviction on federal vandalism laws are stiff: a conviction could lead to up to 10 years in prison without parole and a fine of up to $250,000.

Also important in some jurisdictions is the “parental liability” theory, in which parents may be assigned to pay fines accrued by their minor child.

Frequently vandalism is charged along with other more serious crimes, like disturbing the peace, burglary, and criminal trespass. Vandalism is often defended by pointing out the mitigating factors at work in the act, including creative expression, accident, or the like.


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