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District of Columbia Vandalism and Defacement Laws

Lashing out against your ex by slashing their tires or breaking your enemy's windows might seem like a viable way to deal with your anger issues. However, there are consequences for participating in acts of vandalism. Even if you were treated poorly or unfairly, it won't excuse you or prevent you from being punished for violating vandalism laws.

In the District of Columbia, the official charge isn't "vandalism" because that term isn't used. Rather, if you damage, destroy, or deface someone's property, you can be charged with "destruction or injury of property," a property crime. Another vandalism-related offense that you can face in the District of Columbia is defacement if you spoil the appearance of public or private property.

A Synopsis of District of Columbia Vandalism and Defacement Laws

Part of your legal research should include a complete understanding of a statute. However, it's a lengthy process and you might want to begin with a clear and concise explanation of what a statute says before reading it in its entirety. Get started with the chart below which provides a brief synopsis of vandalism and defacement laws in the District of Columbia.


District of Columbia Division IV. Title 22:

  • Section 22-303 (malicious burning/destruction or injury of property)
  • Section 22-3312.01(defacing public or private property)
  • Section 22-3312.02 (defacing religious symbols)


Destruction of Property


Malicious Burning/Destruction or Injury of Property

Maliciously injuring or breaking or destroying, or attempting to injure or break or destroy, (by fire or otherwise), another's real estate or personal property valued at $1,000 or more can be punished by incarceration for up to 10 years, fines up to $5,000, or both.

Defacement Offenses

Defacement of Public or Private Property

It's unlawful to willfully take the following actions (on public or private property) without the property owner's consent:

  • Disfigure, cut, chip, or cover, rub, or otherwise dump trash or excrement,
  • Write, mark, or print obscene/indecent figures, or
  • Write, mark, draw, or paint.

Types of property include, but aren't limited to the following:

  • Buildings
  • Statues
  • Monuments
  • Public passenger vehicles
  • Mass transit equipment
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Railings
  • Stairs and steps
  • Balconies

Defacement or Burning of Religious Symbols

Private Property: Prohibited from burning, defacing, or damaging a religious or secular symbol on:

  • Any private property primarily used for religious, educational, residential, charitable, cemetery purposes; or
  • Any private property used for assembly by persons of a particular race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or other designations named in the statute.

Public Property: Prohibited from burning, defacing, or damaging a religious or secular symbol on any public property, or to place or display specific symbols, signs, or emblems including, but not limited to: a Nazi swastika, a noose, or exhibit that includes a burning cross (real or simulated) where it's probable that a reasonable person would believe that the intent is:

  • To deprive any person or class of persons with equal rights protections of those protections;
  • To threaten another person where the threat is a serious expression of an intent to inflict harm; or
  • To cause another to fear for their personal safety.

Related Offenses

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

District of Columbia Vandalism and Defacement Laws: Related Resources

Discuss Vandalism and Defacement Charges with a DC Attorney

Even if it's a result of a prank or a situation that got out of hand, facing vandalism charges shouldn't be taken lightly. If you're accused of violating DC's defacement or vandalism laws, locate an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide insight into your case and a strategy forward.

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