Wake of mayhem

It becomes quite unsettling to take a drive through many neighborhoods in “suburbia” or rural areas of this. What were once nice buildings, pristine artwork, or sculptures have become the targets of people engaged in malicious and/or destructive behaviors. Vandalism is defined as the willful destruction or damaging of property in a manner that defaces, mars, or otherwise adds a physical blemish that diminishes the property’s value.

The term vandalism is derived from a group of Germanic tribesmen who invaded the Roman Empire in 455 A.D. and pillaged the capital city of Rome. According to Mark Theoharis with criminaldefenselawyer.com, their burning and looting were so thorough that the tribe’s reputation was sealed throughout history as being synonymous with their act of destruction. The tribe was called the Vandals, and to this day vandalism is a punishable crime in every state.

Unlawful acts of destroying, defacing, or damaging property can stem from something as seemingly small as spraying graffiti on a sign to breaking features of a statue or monument. Annual monetary damage to property in the United States as a consequence of such misguided mischief is estimated in the billions of dollars and will likely not be resolved any time soon. Acts of destruction have an adverse effect on the maintenance and upkeep of facilities like public parks, buildings, and structures funded by both state and federal government entities.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention listed the cost of clean-up, paint removal, and restoration of properties defaced by vandalism to be in excess of $15 billion dollars. This cost ultimately becomes the shared burden of residents, schools, businesses, as well as homeowners. Many government programs suffer due to inadequate resources as the result of desperately needed funds being redirected for necessary clean-up of vandalized properties.

Vandalism is generally not considered a serious crime depending upon the value of property destroyed. If, for example, the item in question isn’t appraised at a value greater than $250 ($500) in some states, it’s considered a misdemeanor. For these offenses, the maximum penalties could include fines and up to one year in jail. In more extreme cases, damage to more valuable property is classified as a felony. Individuals facing felonious charges can be sentenced to more than a year in state prison and required to pay significant fines.

This amount can differ among states or depending upon the type property. For example, some states set a $250 limit to misdemeanors, but any damage to a motor vehicle is a felony. States have their own set of penalties covering vandalism. The most commonly assessed punishments range from a few days in jail to several years in prison, depending on the amount of damage done. If you have a previous conviction for vandalism, or have a criminal record for any other offenses, you may face increased jail penalties.

Fines for vandalism differ widely by state as well, ranging from several hundred dollars to up to $25,000 or more for the most serious offenses. These fines are paid directly to the court, not to the property owner. Restitution is money paid the property owner for any damage caused. The money is in addition to any fines required, and usually has to be enough so the owner can repair or replace the damaged property.

A sentence of probation instead of, or in addition to, a jail sentence and fines can also be imposed. For example, a court may sentence a first-time offender who commits misdemeanor vandalism to probation instead of jail time. For violating any of the rules or conditions of probation, the court may order the original jail sentence to be served.

Courts can also require you to perform community service as part of your punishment. This means spending a specific number of hours serving a volunteer organization or other recognized community service program as a condition of your probation. If you fail to do the community service you will face the original fines and jail sentence. In either case, it seems a rather hefty price to pay for the desire to embrace a little artistic freedom of expression. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.

To pose a question or share your opinion, you can reach B. G. Howard at bw3bh@yahoo.com or P. O. Box 8103, Jacksonville, FL 32239.