Vandalism is the intentional destruction of property. Any action that intentionally destroys the property of another falls under the rubric of vandalism, but graffiti might be the best-known and most-often seen example of vandalism. The property targeted by a vandal might be public or private and there are a variety of punishments for vandals. First, vandals face criminal prosecution with potential punishments ranging from monetary fines all the way to incarceration. Second, vandals may be held liable for monetary damages in a civil lawsuit.
While vandalism is a commonly-understood term, many laws do not specifically use the word vandalism in statutes aimed at protecting property from destruction. Instead, these laws may fall under a variety of different headings including malicious mischief, criminal mischief, or malicious trespass. In fact, many people who commit vandalism may only be convicted of mischief if the damages to the property were minimal or are difficult to prove.
Depending on the type of vandalism and the property destroyed, vandalism might carry an enhanced penalty. For example, vandalism that is racist or targets a specific religious or ethnic group may also violate hate crime statutes. Furthermore, certain public buildings or structures may also receive enhanced protection under state law.
While vandalism is a crime normally committed by young people and normally done specifically for the purpose of wanton destruction, there are two subcategories of vandalism that tend to raise red flags and go beyond youthful mischief. The first subcategory includes gang graffiti. Gangs use graffiti to convey messages to their members and to other gangs, which can make gang graffiti an essential communications component for street gangs. Another subcategory of particularly alarming vandalism is when that vandalism is part of a larger campaign of harassment and intimidation. For example, domestic violence offenders often use the wanton destruction of their victim’s property as part of their harassment campaigns.