CA Vandalism Law Penal Code 594 PC

Vandalism is one of those crimes that people often do not take seriously. Television shows and literature have ingrained images of bored, otherwise harmless, kids doing a little damage to the neighbors. Yet, as is the case with many laws here in California, average residents find themselves in jail, and in need of a bondsman because they have been charged with vandalism after committing an act they had no idea carried such a huge penalty.

In order to better understand what constitutes vandalism, here is a description of the criminal elements and a discussion of possible penalties.


Criminal elements refer to the actions that must be present to find the accused guilty. Absent of all the elements listed below, the courts should not be able to convict one of vandalism.

The elements of the crime vandalism in California are:

  • malicious defacing, damaging or destroying of property with graffiti or other inscribed material.
  • said property belonged to another person.
  • the amount of damage was $400, or more, (felony), or less than $400 (misdemeanor).

As seen here, any amount of destruction results in a criminal charge. Thus, many unwary individuals get swept into the justice system for failing to consider the consequences of their actions. They may erroneously believe that because the damage was, in their opinion, an insignificant amount, the police will not make an arrest. Such is not the case.

So, “tagging” and “street art,” which some may believe harmless, can result in serious legal problems. Likewise, slashing the tires of a lover’s car during a spat might lead to time behind bars.


A misdemeanor vandalism conviction in California results in three possibilities, according to Penal Code 594:

  • less than a year in jail, usually a county facility.
  • a monetary fine of up to $1000. In repeat offender cases, the courts can assess fines up to $5000.
  • Probation.

A felony vandalism conviction in California results in three possibilities, according to Penal Code 594:

  • A jail sentence of up to three years and probation.
  • A maximum monetary fine of $10,000. For repeat offenders, the fine rises to up to $50,000.
  • Probation.

Get Out of Jail
It is obvious that the authorities want to protect California property owners from destruction. The vandalism laws place the accused in serious jeopardy of loss of freedom.

Those arrested for vandalism should attempt to secure release pending trial. In general, it is much easier to stage a defense to a crime while out on bail. The noise, stress and confusion of a jail cell can all work against successfully explaining the case facts to the satisfaction of a judge.

Thus, it is wise for anyone incarcerated to contact a bail bond company as soon as possible. These experts have the know-how and contacts to secure release, assuming the judge allows it. In most instances, a bail bond company works with the incarcerated and their family to set an amenable payment plan.