Property crimes involving the damage of goods are often viewed as less serious than other offenses. While it’s true that crimes like malicious damage or destruction of property aren’t almost never dangerous acts of career criminals, many of the charges in the statutes are in fact felonies, and you can face serious penalties.
But any criminal conviction on your record can have serious consequences in your life, where a charge on a CORI check can damage your school or career opportunities. Also, graffiti and tagging offenses also include a 1-year drivers license suspension.
There are many criminal offenses that can be categorized as property damage offenses–so many that not all of them are listed here. If you are facing charges of malicious damage, vandalism, tagging, or defacement of property, call me today. I’ve been successful at helping clients avoid a criminal record.
Can I Win a Malicious Property Damage Case?
June 2017 – Malicious Dest. Prop over $250
Dudley – Dismissed
March 2017 – Felony Malicious Damage
Malden – Dismissed
March 2017 – Vandalism
Chelsea – No Charge Issued/Dismissed
August 2016 – Felony Malicious Damage
Woburn – Reduced to Misdemeanor, CWOF
May 2016 – Felony Malicious Damage
Charlestown – Dismissed
May 2015 – Stoughton – Dismissed
July 2014 – Brockton – Pretrial Probation
July 2014 – Somerville – Felony Dismissed
March 2014 – Wrentham – Pretrial Probation
October 2012 – Fall River – Pretrial Probation
Absolutely, these cases are winnable. I have had some great results in a variety of these types of cases. If you’ve been summoned to a clerk magistrate’s hearing, there is a real chance we can get the case dropped before a criminal complaint is even issued. Or if you are arrested and must appear at an arraignment, there are other sentencing alternatives to be negotiated.
So even if you know you are guilty of the charge, we can often win.
There are also a lot of other ways to win these cases, including diversion programs, pretrial probation, and other alternatives to just pleading guilty.
The goal of our defense is to make it go away completely, either immediately at a clerk’s hearing, or after 6 months of no further incidents.
We want to keep your criminal record clean, and there are lots of different ways I can get that result, including pretrial probation, and pretrial diversion programs.
Massachusetts Malicious Damage Laws
Malicious damage is the most commonly charges property damage offense in the state of Massachusetts. It is applicable when you are accused of damaging or destroying the property of another. The charge and potential penalty you face, however, depends on how you acted at the time of the offense.
The law states that if you act “willfully and maliciously” or with negative intentions, the charge is considered willful destruction of property. The penalty is:
- up to 10 years in prison, and
- fines of $3,000 or 3 times the amount of damage caused, whichever is greater.
However, if you acted “wantonly” or not with direct negative intentions (similar to carelessly), the penalty is
- up to 2 ½ years in prison and
- fines of $1,500 or three times the value, whichever is greater.
Ref: MGL c.266 §127
Though the statute says these charges are serious felonies, it is quite rare to actually be sentenced to jail time in all but the most egregious and destructive circumstances.
In typical minor cases, we almost always can work out a deal to pay for the damage, and avoid any permanent criminal record.
Malicious Damage to a Motor Vehicle
Motor vehicles are a special class of property damage laws, where damaging or defacing a car or trailer is a felony offense, with maximum penalties of up to 15 years in prison, and fines of $5000.
Generally, these laws exist to punish professional criminal organizations, so you are not likely to be facing these penalties in most, more typical cases.
Destruction of Certain Buildings
If you are charged with destruction of a place of worship or otherwise vandalizing or doing damage to one of the following types of buildings, you could face slightly higher penalties than a simple malicious damage charge:
- Community Center
- Church, Synagogue, Mosque or other house of worship,
The penalty you face for damage to places of worship or other specified buildings is dependent on the value of the damage.
If the damage is valued at less than $5,000, you can face
- 2 ½ years in jail and
- a fine of $2,000 or 3 times the value of the damage, whichever is greater.
If the value is more than $5,000 you can be sentenced to
- up to 5 years in prison and
- $5,000 or 3 times the damaged value in fines.
Ref: MGL c.266 §127A
If the damage caused is under $5000 in costs, the penalty is just a slightly larger fine than a charge of wanton malicious damage, but has a potential longer jail term than wanton malicious damage if the cost is greater than $5000.
But if the damage is willful, the standard willful malicious damage statute above is tougher, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
Defacement/ Graffiti / Felony Vandalism
Graffiti is defined as willfully or maliciously painting, marking, scratching, etching or otherwise marking or defacing the property of another. This property doesn’t have to be something of much value. A rock or fence would qualify for this charge.
Any type of vandalism that is willful destruction of personal property can be charged as a felony offense.
If convicted of this charge, you could be sentenced to up to 3 years in prison and fines. You may also be required to pay for the removal of the graffiti.
A graffiti conviction will also get your driver’s license suspended for up to one year.
Ref: MGL c.266 §126A
Similar to a graffiti charge, tagging involves etching, signing, or painting your name, moniker, initials or other “tag” on someone else’s property. It is sometimes associated with gang activity, which is why tagging is punished and prosecuted more harshly than one might expect.
Tagging is a felony offense in Massachusetts which carries a potential 2 years in prison and a fine of up more than $1,500 but less than 3 times the value of the damage.
A tagging conviction will also warrant a one-year driver’s license suspension.
Ref: MGL c.266 §126B
Malicious Property Damage and Hate Crimes
Destruction of property that is considered a “hate crime” is a violation of a person’s civil rights, and could have addition criminal penalties, as well as civil lawsuit risks.
If you damage the personal property of a person with intent to intimidate based on a person’s “race, color, religion, national original, sexual orientation gender identity, or disability” is a crime with up to 2 1/2 years in prison under MGL Ch 265, Sec 39.
Examples of this could be racist graffiti, swastikas, tagging someone’s property with “Fag”,”Dyke” or a variety or slurs based on race or gender identity.
Charges like these are nothing to be taken lightly. Whether you have a reasonable explanation for your actions or you deny your guilt, I can help. Contact me to discuss the details of your case today, and I’ll discuss how I think we can keep this incident off your record.