It doesn't take much for a childish prank to become an act of criminal vandalism. Technically, whenever you intentionally damage or destroy someone else's personal property without consent you can be charged with this crime.
In Pennsylvania, acts of vandalism and graffiti are charged as criminal mischief. This law punishes a variety of intentional actions that damage property belonging to someone else. If you live in the Keystone State, you should be familiar with the basics of Pennsylvania vandalism laws.
Criminal Mischief in Pennsylvania
Releasing a stink bomb in the school cafeteria, tagging someone's fence with paint, or knocking down mail boxes with a baseball bat are all examples of criminal mischief. Under Pennsylvania law, a person is guilty of criminal mischief if they intentionally do any of the following without the consent of the property owner:
- Damage the personal or real (land) property of another;
- Deface or otherwise damage physical property with graffiti by use of any aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker, or similar marking device;
- Deface property by discharging a paintball gun or paintball marker at that property; or
- Recklessly or negligently damage someone else's property by fire, explosives, or other dangerous means.
Vandalism of Churches and Schools
Pennsylvania law is tough on people who vandalize schools and churches. The state created a separate crime, called institutional vandalism, that provides for harsher penalties. A person commits the offense of institutional vandalism if they knowingly desecrate, vandalize, deface, or otherwise damage property belonging to a church, school, or cemetery. You can also run afoul of this law by damaging any personal property located in one of these facilities.
What is Agricultural Vandalism?
Hot rodding through a field of corn might sound like a silly prank, but it could result in a charge of agricultural vandalism. An offense occurs when one intentionally or recklessly defaces or damages the real or tangible personal property of another, and that property is used in agricultural activity or farming. The property allegedly damaged can include crops, farm equipment, fences, livestock, poultry, and products that include eggs, milk, and fruit.
Overview of Pennsylvania Vandalism Laws
The following chart highlights important aspects of the Pennsylvania law on criminal mischief and related property crimes.
|Penalties for Criminal Mischief
||If property loss is $500 or less:
If property loss is in excess of $500:
- Summary offense
- Punishable by up to ninety days in jail
- Up to a $250 fine
If property loss is in excess of $1,000:
- Misdemeanor of the third degree
- Punishable by up to 90 days in jail or fines up to $2,500
If property damage is in excess of $5,000:
- Misdemeanor of the second degree
- Punishable by up to 2 years in jail and fines of up to $5,000
- Felony of the third degree
- Punishable by up to 7 years in jail and fines of up to $15,000
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.
Pennsylvania Vandalism Laws: Related Resources
Looking for additional information on vandalism laws in Pennsylvania? The following links are a great starting point:
Questions About Pennsylvania Vandalism Charges? Get Legal Help Today
Even a minor criminal mischief charge is a serious matter. A conviction can impact your career, your financial life, and many other aspects of your life. Fortunately, in the eyes of the law you're innocent until proven guilty. So if you're facing criminal charges, it might be a good time to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania defense attorney to learn more about how the law applies to the facts of your case.