Community Voice

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.


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