In Delaware, vandalism is a form of criminal mischief that is loosely used to refer to any willful harming or destruction of the property of another. Offenses of vandalism can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending upon the monetary value of the property damage or if there is malicious and hateful intent involved. Since the actual crime of vandalism can include a number of permutations of actions, it can be important to have an awareness of all events that can be construed as vandalism, as intent is often a mitigating factor in how a hearing or sentencing can proceed. Don’t hesitate to retain the services of a Delaware Vandalism Defense Attorney if you’ve found yourself facing vandalism charges.
The inclusion of all of the following can be charged as a form of vandalism:
- Destruction or defacing of a motor vehicle, such as scratching, denting, or slashing tires.
- Destruction or defacing of public property or public services, either through force or with a substance such as paints or markers.
- Altering public edifices, including statues, signs, and construction markers.
- Defacing or destroying personal property, which may include egging, breaking windows, or uprooting plants, including grass.
- Altering the possessions of another or acting in such a way that may cause ensuing harm.
- Trespassing on or in property that is considered the domain of another, which may include a public space past public hours.
Since vandalism covers a wide range actions, the commission of a crime might not be immediately obvious to the offender, however the person will still face arrest for the infraction.
Some acts of criminal mischief such as pranks that can include egging a car or toilet papering a house can be socially accepted within communities. Thus, these cases will often involve the discretion of the person whose property has been violated. This often applies to trespassing as a form of vandalism as well, especially when it is a privately owned property and the offender may only be fully processed if the homeowner chooses to do so. However, trespassing on a property that is public but may be subject to restrictions, does fall under the jurisdiction of the state law and will result in an immediate arrest, with charges pending a hearing.
Influencing Factors in a Vandalism Arrest
If charges are pressed for a vandalism arrest, three major factors will determine whether it is heard as a misdemeanor or felony charge. Property damages that are under $1,500 are generally a misdemeanor, while anything over that amount automatically becomes a felony. If the vandalism is towards the property of public works and the tampering, destruction, or defacement causes an interruption of service or harm to the public, that act is immediately classified as a felony, regardless of the monetary value placed on the act of vandalism. Any criminal mischief that may also be considered a hate crime, which would include defacing and destroying a place of worship, or the inscription of hateful sentiments on a public or private residence is also immediately classified as a felony.
In general, all types of vandalism that are charged as a misdemeanor will incur up to a year in jail and as much as $2,300 in fines. Felony vandalism will require fines and restitution and also as much as two years in jail. When vandalism involves the disruption of public works, higher fines are combined with the jail time since restitutions will be based on the number of citizens that were adversely affected by the action. This is most often seen when the criminal mischief involves tampering with electrical lines, public water distribution and removal, or telephone services. Thus, opening a fire hydrant without authorization can be construed as an act of vandalism against public works.
Graffiti as Vandalism
Graffiti vandalism in Delaware has some special considerations, and while it may also be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, any graffiti charge is an automatic $500 fine, along with restitution and further fines that are decided by the court at sentencing. This charge also expects that the offender serve 200 hours of community service, with 100 of those hours spent on graffiti removal. This is beyond the restitution for defacement and any jail time that may be imposed.
When vandalism is also deemed a hate crime, it becomes punishable under separate but concurrent considerations of the law. Although state law enforcement and prosecution can investigate and pursue evidence in a hate crime, this charge will eventually be imposed and heard in a Federal court. The state courts will hear the charges and handle the sentencing for the actual act of vandalism, but Federal prosecution will be called upon to evaluate the evidence of the hate crime. Since this falls under separate jurisdictions of the law, sentences and fines will be compounded, and one does not act as time served for the other. Both charges, however, will be felonies.
Fires and Arson
Reckless burning may also be considered an act of vandalism, since it falls into the category of an action which could cause ensuing harm. The difference between reckless burning and arson is the intent to cause destruction. Reckless burning can encompass setting a bonfire without a permit, incinerating rubbish, or setting of fireworks, explosives, or other incendiary devices. The ignition may be done intentionally, yet when the unintentional result causes harm to properties or buildings, it may still be considered reckless burning and not arson.
Although the law defines vandalism in Delaware clearly, an actual charge can be subject to extenuating circumstances and the willingness of the offended to take legal action. Juveniles in particular can experience this grey area, as agreements between parties may often be reached with parental intervention. However, a felony designation or a case where the legal precedent is sought will go to court, and fines are expected to be paid by the guardian or parent of the juvenile offender.
Contact a Vandalism Attorney in Delaware Today!
Property Crime Defense Lawyer Brian J. Chapman is the man to turn to when you’re facing charges for vandalism. Call his office by dialing 302-656-2528 or just email us directly if you prefer.