The problem with most arguments or situations that result in domestic violence charges is that they are chaotic. The emotions are running high, participants and witnesses remember the specific details differently, and in many cases, things get broken.
For those facing domestic violence charges, vandalism charges arise in largely the same way: Disagreements about facts or the implications of the facts in emotionally charged, quickly escalating situations. And in far too many cases, the police believe the initial story told by the “victim” and the case proceeds according to those lines.
Understanding how these situations arise is critical to defending yourself about vandalism charges stemming from domestic violence situations.
How do vandalism charges arise?
In most cases, the “vandalism” that occurs is a natural offshoot of escalating familial arguments. A door slams and something falls from the wall. An item gets thrown against the wall or floor. In some cases, someone simply bumps a valuable item off the counter in the middle of an argument and they end up being charged with vandalism.
While some vandalism charges are real and need to be taken seriously, there are clearly many circumstantial situations, at best, and the prosecutor has little chance of making them stick if the defendant has a good lawyer.
The elements of vandalism charges
Vandalism charges in California are laid out in California Penal Code (CPC) 594, the beginning of which reads:
- Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism:
- Defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material.
We can break this down into three distinct elements:
- Damaging, defacing or destroying property
- That is not your own
- With malicious intent
Felony and misdemeanor vandalism charges are distinguished by the property’s overall value in question. A value of more than $400 makes it a felony, and less than $400 makes it a misdemeanor.
Defending against vandalism charges
The prosecutor will need to prove all these elements in court for you to be convicted of vandalism. Although the elements are simple, the prosecutor needs to prove all four for a conviction, and there are numerous arguments available for each element.
- Destroying, damaging or defacing property: In most cases, property being damaged or destroyed is easy to establish in court. But there is always the possibility that the person being accused of the crime didn’t do the damage. A broken cell phone might have been damaged already, or the person on trial might face false accusations.
- That is not your own: There is often confusion, especially in the context of marriage, regarding the ownership of property around the house. Further, if the other person gave you permission to damage the thing, it can negate culpability. This type of permission often happens in heated arguments when the other party says something like “Go ahead and smash it. I don’t care.” That type of utterance can be construed as permission.
- Malicious intent: As noted above, most domestic violence-related vandalism charges stem from clumsiness or heat of passion which can negate the malice required for a conviction.
In addition to these defenses against the elements of vandalism, a good defense attorney can always attack the investigation, the arrest or other critical police actions. If they violated any of your constitutional rights in their proceedings, it could nullify all the evidence obtained, destroying the prosecutor’s case against you.
The stakes are high in domestic violence-related vandalism cases. Make sure you fight back aggressively against these charges to protect your freedom, your finances, your reputation in the community and possibly your right to see your own children.