In Teens

Vandalism – What it is and how it can Affect You


A crime in every state, vandalism pertains to the willful destruction of property that belongs to someone else. It can include and act as innocuous as tee peeing someone’s trees or can be even more destructive, such as slashing someone’s tires or breaking the windshield of their car. Not actually named in criminal statute as vandalism, it falls under the terms of malicious trespass, criminal mischief or malicious mischief.

The first thing that you need to know about vandalism is that it is a crime. What may seem to you to be just playing, displaying your art, or having fun, could land you in a lot of trouble. The definition of vandalism, according to Merriam Webster says that vandalism is “the willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property.” However, the vandalism definition according to is, ” an offense that occurs when a person destroy’s or defaces someone else’s property without permission.” The vandal definition includes acts performed by someone who is intent on destructing someone else’s property.

This includes acts such as breaking windows, slashing tires, breaking windshields, painting graffiti on walls or anything else that is not yours. Attacking the computers of others with viruses is also considered vandalism. Crimes that are committed over the internet may also be subject to federal laws, furthering your criminal act and taking it into a realm that you really don’t want to be in.

It comes down to Intent

Did you mean to break the basketball hoop at the local court, or was it an accident due to over exuberance? Did you mean to run over your neighbor’s favorite rose bush, or was the mower stuck in gear? Vandalism requires intent and accidents do happen, however the use of twelve cans of spray paint on the local water tower to shout at the world your love for Rita is definitely vandalism and can get you in a lot of hot water.

What is Vandalism

Acts that can lead to a vandalism charge include –

  • Defacing public property, such as park benches, furniture, buildings or street signs
  • Breaking the windows in someone’s home
  • Damaging someone else’s property with your hands, feet
  • Breaking the windows in someone’s car
  • Keying (scratching) someone’s car
  • Slashing the tires on someone’s vehicle
  • Egging someone’s car, window or home
  • Spray painting someone else’s property with the intent to deface it
  • Knocking down street signs
  • Knocking down mailboxes
  • Furthermore, if you are caught vandalizing someones property and have items with you, such as spray paint, a glasscutter or some other tool, you may be charged for intent to commit vandalism.

Teens and Vandalism

Many crimes that are committed by juveniles go unreported, both violent and malicious crimes. They comprise 32% of all property crime arrests and vandalism falls under that heading. The destruction of private property poses a societal threat and modern laws make vandalism a crime that is punishable by a fine, jail sentence, and restitution for the cost of the damage that was done, or all three. Vandalism can be an expensive few minutes of loss of control or your common sense.

When under the age of eighteen, crimes committed by teens are handled through the juvenile justice system and it is not somewhere that you or your child or someone that you know wants to end up. Still subject to proof of a crime vandalism charges in the juvenile court are decided by a juvenile judge who has the discretion to hand out punishment for acts of vandalism. An act of vandalism can cost you financially and may subject you to incarceration in a juvenile jail.

Adults and Vandalism

Not just a crime of the young, adult behavior is often no better than that of the youths who mimic it. Adults are as guilty as teens of committing acts of vandalism and are often co-conspirators with youths, leading them astray.

On the other side of the issue are the victims, as vandalism is not a victimless crime. Sixty-Two point four of every 1,000 households headed by an adult over the age of 65 are victims of vandalism and other property crimes.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Is graffiti art or vandalism? A crime by any other name, graffiti art is vandalism. If you owned a building, you certainly wouldn’t want someone to paint the side of it unless you asked them to. The art community will argue that larger pieces of graffiti are indeed art and not vandalism, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and painting someone else’s property is still vandalism.

Some communities are looking at the effect of vandalism in their cities and designating areas where graffiti artists can let their inner artist bloom. Others go as far as paying graffiti artists to paint murals on the walls of their buildings. However, unless you are painting graffiti art with permission, you are committing a crime.

Many deem graffiti to be an art form, and argue that it should not be shown disregard because of its illegality. Nevertheless, determining what is art and what is not is not the duty of law enforcement, and their sense of humor is lacking when faced with the defacement of private property. Defending your graffiti as art will not get you very far in your argument against the commission of a crime.

Be Aware

The ages of individuals who commit the greatest number of property crimes are between fifteen and twenty-one. Vandalism committed by this adolescent group, causes millions of dollars of damage each year, to schools, and other public and private properties. They leave the victims distraught, with a feeling that they have been violated in a way that they do not deserve.

If you have a child in this age group, make them aware of the harm that is caused by this behavior, and make it clear to them that the punishment for such a crime, if they are caught, can haunt them the rest of their lives. This is especially true if they have reached the age of eighteen where they no longer have the protection and perceived leniency of juvenile court.

Is there a Defense for Vandalism?

Of course there is and can include mitigating circumstances that lower the penalties. Circumstances that may lessen vandalism charges include mischief, indifference and creative expression. Just because you don’t get caught red handed, though, doesn’t mean that you will walk away Scott free. With the prevalence of video cameras and the statement of witnesses, you may be caught for vandalism after the fact.

The best defense is not to commit the crime to begin with. Vandalism, such as painting walls, bridges and overpasses seem to be acts that seem to harm no one, but the point is, they are not yours. If you have a drive to paint something, paint something that is yours, not someone else’s. Destruction of anything that belongs to someone else is wrong, and having to explain your lack of control to a judge will make that act that seemed so trifling a big deal.

Think Before you Act

Going along with the gang may seem like fun, until someone takes the play too far and fun digresses into destruction of property. What may seem harmless, can quickly become a situation where you have a lot of explaining to do, and you best hope that those explanations are not required to be before the court.

If you have an overwhelming desire to make the world your personal canvas, get permission first. On the other hand, gain the notoriety that will have people paying you to paint their buildings and such with your unique artistic graffiti.

As for destructive behavior that is born of frustration or anger, seek help before it ruins your life and the lives of those around you. Vandalism and the destruction of the property of others can ruin your life at any age. When it affects the lives of youths across the nation, it is a sad testament to your society.

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