This week there is a $2,000 reward out for information leading to the individuals who vandalized Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates by spray-painting obscenities and a swastika on the grounds. Fifty lockers were also cut open and their contents scattered all over the floor. Some of the spray painted graffiti included “PV” and “Sea Kings”, leading to speculation that the vandals are teens from rival Palos Verdes High School. Benches, windows, walls and brick were spray painted.
California vandalism and graffiti law prohibits “defacing, damaging, or destroying someone else’s property.” The prosecution must prove that the defendants 1) defaced with graffiti or other inscribed material, damaged, or destroyed another person’s property, 2) that defendants did so maliciously, and 3) that the amount of the defacement, damage, or destruction was either less than $400 for a misdemeanor prosecution, or $400 or more for a felony prosecution.
In the case of the high school vandals, the vandalism appears on presumably public property. In this case, the judge or jury will presume that the defendants neither owned the property nor had permission to deface, damage, or destroy it. Defendants act “maliciously” under the law if they acted for the purpose of annoying or injuring another person, or acted to intentionally commit a wrongful act.
The type of case the defendants will face is based on the value of the damage they caused. If the cost to repair or replace the defaced, damaged, or destroyed property is less than $400, prosecutors will charge them with misdemeanor vandalism. If the cost is $400 or more, prosecutors have a choice of charging a misdemeanor or a felony.
However, in the case of the actions against Peninsula High School, prosecutors can add the acts together to charge defendants with a felony if the aggregate amount totals $400 or more. The prosecutors have to first show that all the acts were part of the same intention, impulse and plan. The vandalism at Peninsula High School happened at time near a basketball game against Palos Verdes High School. It will not be too difficult for prosecutors to show that the intention, impulse and plan of all the acts was to show “PV High” pride on the eve of a basketball game.
The only defense any defendant has here (in the Peninsula High vandalism) would be mistaken identity. Unless there are witness willing to come forward, or cameras in the school hallways, it will be difficult to pinpoint the actual individuals who acted here.
Although not the case here, vandalism can also be charged as an infraction where the cost of damage of less than $250 and it is the defendant’s first vandalism. If the defendant is convicted of misdemeanor vandalism the punishment is informal probation, up to one year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, a California driver’s license suspension of up to two years, and counseling services. Included in the punishment is community service; or personally cleaning, repairing, or replacing the damaged property; or keeping the damaged property or another property in the community graffiti free for up to one year. The judge may require the parents of a defendant under the age of 18 years old to help fulfill these conditions.
If the amount of the damage is $400 or greater, and the defendant is convicted of felony vandalism, the defendant faces a maximum fine of $10,000; up to one year in county jail or up to 16 months, or two or three years in state prison, and the same probation conditions as misdemeanor vandalism.
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