Protecting Your Rights
Vandalism, Destruction of Property, Tampering
Destruction of property is the second most common property crime in Virginia, second only to shop lifting/larceny.
Destruction of property encompasses a wide variety of criminal behavior. Vandalism, illegally removing property, destroying property, or tampering with property is all covered under the destruction of property law in Virginia.
Va. Code 18.2-137 (Destruction or Injury of Property) creates three types of destruction of property crimes, each with their own levels of punishments:
1) Unintentional Destruction of Property:
Unintentionally, but unlawfully, destroying property of any value is a class 3 misdemeanor no matter what the value of the property is. This type of destruction of property is a criminal offense, with a maximum fine of $500.
2) Intentional Destruction < $1000:
Intentionally destroying property that is worth less than $1,000 is a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
3) Intentional Destruction ≥ $1000:
Intentionally destroying property that is worth $1,000 or more is a class 6 felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a maximum of $2,500 in fines.
Whether or not the damage to property was intentional is a very important fact. In order to charge someone with the two most serious forms of destruction of property, the prosecution must prove that the damage was intentional.
If the damage was not intentional, the defendant may still be guilty of the least serious form of destruction of property if the damage was “unlawful”.
Unlawful damage means damage that is caused by the commission of an unlawful act or damage that is caused in a criminally negligent manner. Some examples of unintentional but unlawful damage include:
A car accidents caused by reckless driving.
Throwing objects out a window without looking and and damaging a car parked on the street below.
Playing around with a loaded pistol and accidentally shooting a hole through your neighbor’s property.
In most cases, the prosecution needs to prove that the destruction or damage was caused intentionally. Proving intent to damage property can be accomplished by the actions of the defendant.
For example, if a defendant spray paints his name into the side of a car the judge can presume that it was done intentionally because of the nature of the destruction.
However, if the destruction was caused in a way that is not obviously intentional, then the most common way that the prosecution proves intent is through a confession or statement made by the defendant.
Proving the Value of Property
You cannot be convicted of felony destruction of property unless the prosecution can prove that the value of the damage is $1,000 or more.
Proving the cost of damages can be difficult in some cases. The prosecution must bring a witness who has first-hand knowledge of the actual cost of the damages.
If the property is utterly destroyed the cost of the damage is the replacement value of the property. If the property is not totaled then the repair cost is the measure of the damages.
If the prosecution’s witness does not have firsthand knowledge regarding the cost of the damages then the prosecution may not be able to prove felony destruction of property.
Here are some common examples of when a prosecution’s witness will be unable to testify regarding the cost of certain damage:
Example 1: The prosecution’s witness is the owner of a car that was vandalized and repaired. The owner’s wife was the one who took the car to the dealer and paid for the repairs.
At trial the owner may be barred from testifying as to the value of the repairs because he does not have first-hand knowledge of their costs. Without the wife to testify the prosecution may not be able to convict for felony destruction of property.
Example 2: A shed is spray-painted with graffiti. The owner of the shed claims that it will cost $1200 to repair the shed. The owner has not repaired the shed yet and has only gotten an estimate from a handy man.
The court will not likely allow the shed’s owner to testify to the handy man’s opinion regarding the estimated cost of repairs because the estimate is a guess and because the estimate is not based on the witness’s first-hand knowledge.
Example 3: A witness testifies sold his car for $5,000 after it was damaged. However, the witness does not know whether the car can be repaired or how much it would cost to repair the car.
This testimony is insufficient to prove felony destruction of property because it may have cost less than $1,000 to repair the damage to the car.
A judge has the authority to order that a defendant pay restitution to the victims of a destruction of property crime. Restitution goes to the victims rather than the court, and the law does not limit the dollar amount that a judge can order you to pay.
Restitution is typically only for the repair cost or replacement cost of the item damaged.
Paying close attention to the restitution requests of the victims is very important. Many victims try to use the court process as an opportunity to get more money than they are entitled to.
Defendants should not have to pay restitution for anything other than the replacement cost or repair cost of the item that was destroyed. Pain and suffering, emotional damage and other expenses should not be included.
So for example, if you a convicted for destroying a person’s car, the restitution payments should not include the cost of a rental car or taxis while the car is in being replaced.
If you are charged with unintentional destruction of property, and the court receives proof that the defendant has already paid full restitution to the victim, then the judge is allowed to dismiss the case if the judge wants to.
Before paying restitution prior to trial, talk to an attorney. Many defendants have been convicted or made their case worse because they talked to the victim while trying to pay restitution. An attorney can help you pay restitution without exposing you to any legal risks.
Consequences of Destruction of Property
All destruction of property charges are criminal offenses. A conviction for destruction of property will result in a permanent criminal record for all adults and for some juvenile cases as well.
If you are convicted of destruction of property you can never get an expungement of your conviction in Virginia.
Destruction of property charges may result in serious immigration consequences, including deportation. Security clearance, professional licensing, application to schooling or jobs may also be affected by a conviction.
Unintentional destruction of property will result in up to a $500 fine and a criminal conviction.
Intentional destruction of property worth less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor and can result in up to 12 months in jail, $2,500 in fines.
Intentional destruction of property worth less $1,000 or more is a felony and can result in up to 5 years in prison and $2,500 in fines. Felony convictions will result in loss of certain civil rights as well, such as voting and gun ownership.
VA. Code 18.2-146 Tampering with a Vehicle.
There is a special form of destruction of property that applies only to vehicles, boats and aircraft. The law states the following:
“Any person who shall individually or in association with one or more others willfully break, injure, tamper with or remove any part or parts of any vehicle, aircraft, boat or vessel for the purpose of injuring, defacing or destroying said vehicle, aircraft, boat or vessel, or temporarily or permanently preventing its useful operation, or for any purpose against the will or without the consent of the owner of such vehicle, aircraft, boat or vessel, or who shall in any other manner willfully or maliciously interfere with or prevent the running or operation of such vehicle, aircraft, boat or vessel, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
Tampering with a vehicle is very similar to the destruction of property laws with the following exceptions:
- Removing parts, tampering or preventing the operation of the vehicle violates this law.
- The prosecution does not have to prove the value of the damage.
- All tampering cases are a class 1 misdemeanor which means they are punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Call Nichols & Green PLLC for a free consultation with a lawyer about your destruction of property case (703) 215-1114.