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Child Charged With Vandalism: What Punishments Are Possible?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

If a child is charged with vandalism, what punishments are possible?

Vandalism is, generally speaking, the intentional destruction of another's property. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the cost of the damage and also on the intent (for example, gang-related graffiti is punished more harshly than non-gang graffiti).

A lot of vandalism gets committed by minors, who end up in the juvenile justice system. Because vandalism is a property crime, there is property to repair. A question from FindLaw Answers wants to know who pays for the damage and what the consequences are for the minor who committed the crime.

Potential Consequences for the Child

Every state is different of course, but generally, children are prosecuted in a state's juvenile justice system. Children can be tried as adults, but only in certain limited circumstances. For example, in Ohio, a child can be transferred to the adult justice system only if the child is over the age of 14 and committed murder or another serious felony. (Burglary, rape, robbery, arson, and kidnapping are usually what the law means by "serious felonies," in addition to murder.)

For simple vandalism, however, a child will probably remain in the juvenile justice system, which actually has a lot of advantages. In California, for example, even though juveniles don't have a right to jury trials, juvenile courts are limited to a small range of punishments, which don't include placement in an adult jail or prison. And a child, unlike an adult, can later petition to have his or her juvenile court record sealed, or even destroyed, under certain circumstances.

Potential Consequences for Parents

If a child is convicted of vandalism, his or her parents will generally be on the hook when it comes to restitution, or making the injured party whole. Depending on the facts of the case, restitution for vandalism can be the cost to clean or repair the damaged property (as in graffiti), or to replace the damaged property (as in broken windows). There's some relief in the knowledge that states can limit parental liability; in Utah, for example, parents are liable only up to $2,000 if their child's vandalism wasn't gang-related.

Restitution comes in addition to criminal fines and court costs, all of which parents are liable for if the child can't pay (and usually, the child can't). This includes the cost of probation measures, including mental health or substance abuse treatment, electronic monitoring, and drug testing.

And we haven't even talked about civil liability. The owner of the vandalized property can still sue the child's parents in civil court; many states make parents financially responsible for a child's actions. However, if a party has already been made whole through court-ordered restitution, then he or she can't recover again through the civil court system.

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