What is the punishment for graffiti?

 In my previous articles, "Graffiti artists vs. property owners" and "How you can affect graffiti" (which you can view by clicking the Storyline tab to the right), the discussion played mostly on property owners, graffiti removal and costs involved. That’s only a a part of the issues involved with graffiti. There’s a lot I’d like to know about the person holding the spray paint. What happens when a tagger (the person colorfully broadcasting their moniker) gets caught for vandalizing property?

Under Penal Code section 594, the penalty given depends on the dollar amount of damage done. Essentially, the cost of property damages done by a tagger determines whether he or she is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The vandal is alloted a separate charge for each victim, so multiple victims (multiple tags across different properties) are not stockpiled into one single charge. If the amount of damage (for each charge) is less than $400, it’s a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. If the damage is more than $400, the offense may be charged as a felony, requiring a penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine of up to $10,000. Here’s an illustration: If I spray painted LOWLY INTERN across the side of six different buildings, yet the cost of damages for each property was less than $400, I would be charged with a misdemeanor (most likely fined and the possibility of a light jail term, all decided without having to go to trial).

In any scenario, the vandal must pay the victim the full cost of repairs, and may be ordered to not only clean up the graffiti but keep the area clean for up to a year. If the vandal is a minor (under 18), this court order may fall onto the shoulders of the vandal’s parents.

According to Charles Gonzalez, a District Attorney that deals with graffiti-related cases, the outcome of a graffiti case often depends upon the facts of the case, and therefore each case is approached individually. This is what’s considered: The amount of damage, whether the graffiti is gang-related or threatening, the defendant’s criminal background and likelihood of re-offending. The feelings of the victim are also taken into account. Like all instances in the criminal justice system, minors and adults are treated differently for graffiti cases. For a minor, the punishment can range from six months of unsupervised informal probation to actually becoming a ward of the state, which is a form of probation that could last until he or she turns 21.

What do you think about these penalties? Do you think they are ineffective? Too severe? Not severe enough? Please share in the dialogue and comment below.


  • It’s almost a moot point, since most of the graffiti in Sacramento is the result of gang activity. They are often never caught.

    • Mona Romero

      Thanks for your comment, yoginimelie. I read on the City of Sacramento website that about twenty percent of graffiti in Sacramento is gang-related. It’s hard to tell how accurate that percentage is. If it is a close estimate, I’d like to know where the other 80 or so percent comes from.

    • it comes from non-gang related artists..

  • there shouldn’t be such a penalty. it’s art.
    let it go and let me live

  • by the way, im 13

  • im wrtiting a report on grafftitit, send me facts at paulolangi@yahoo.com

  • Handcuffed Tagger

    graffiti laws definitly need to b in effect bt nt so severe. a year in jail is crap fr a beautiful peice of art on tha side of a building, evn if tha tagger dsnt own it

  • Graffiti artists don’t even have interest in a private owned wall such as someones house (yours or your neighbors) or a privately owned business (your local grocery store).. its not like we don’t know what we are doing and go risk getting a fine or time behind bars to go paint on a WALMART so it can be removed the next day.. We target spots that will actually stay a while and can be seen by the ones that want to see it. The most you can do about it is set up legal graffiti walls and have more respect for the artists.. We are the one’s out there risking ourselves just so we can do what makes us feel alive while your sitting at home watching the news complaining about every single issue it mentions. Sacramento is the only city in California that tries to declare a “ban” on graffiti.. Look at New York.. They tried everything in their power to stop it. Did it stop? No. People die over gang related graffiti and the community decides to leave that up longer then an individual artists piece. We are everyday living people.. Just like you. We experience good and bad.. Just like you. We live in the same city as you do! If graffiti was legal for at least a year you would drive down the road and see a piece of art that reaches out to you and make you think ‘Wow I couldn’t do that even if I tried”. We know our consequences whether it’s getting arrested to dying if we fall off of something. Let us do our thing it’s none of your business.. We haven’t done anything to you. Graffiti is a word used to describe a genre of art.. Not vandalism.. We are everyday people.. It’s your judgements that makes us vandals.


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