Can You Be Arrested for Graffiti in NJ?

Graffiti might be considered street art or an expression of free speech to some, but it is also often a crime.  Certainly, spray painting your own property is okay under most circumstances, but tagging public property or painting someone else’s building is considered destruction of property or vandalism.  In most cases, this is an offense that can get you arrested, fined, and potentially sent to jail in New Jersey.  If you’ve been accused of spray painting or posting graffiti on someone else’s property, talk to our Atlantic City vandalism lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today.

Vandalism and Criminal Mischief Charges for Graffiti in NJ

The crime of vandalism is known as “criminal mischief” in New Jersey and predominately covers any charges for destruction of property.  If you tagged a building simply to vandalize it or mark it, the graffiti would likely be charged as criminal mischief under N.J.S.A. § 17-3.  This will typically punish you only for the damage done, not the message behind it.  However, there are other crimes that could attach to graffiti.  If the property damaged by graffiti is a church, religious building, cemetery, or similar building or piece of property, the act could be charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-11 instead.

Graffiti is sometimes used to mark territory for gangs and other illegal organizations or to intimidate people of certain races or religions.  Graffiti involving racist language, threats, swastikas, or other images or words intended to intimidate or scare others could be charged under a separate offense with higher penalties, such as N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-10.

For criminal mischief, the government must prove that you purposely damaged another person’s property.  It can also be charged for reckless damage to property if you used explosives, fire, or other similarly dangerous things.  The crime scales in severity depending on the value of the damage done, as follows:

  • $2,000 or more in damage is a third degree crime,
  • Over $500 but less than $2,000 in damage is a fourth degree crime, and
  • $500 or less in damage is a disorderly persons offense.

Destroying certain types of property or interfering with utilities, aircraft, or human remains (e.g., in cemeteries or mausoleums) is covered under various other statutes.

Defacing a church or other facility under § 2C:33-11 is also a fourth degree crime, and threatening another with graffiti or vandalism under § 2C:33-10 is a third degree crime.

Penalties for Graffiti Crimes

All of these offenses are criminal in nature, meaning that you can face serious consequences.  If you are caught committing any of these crimes, or if you are later charged with committing a crime, you could be arrested.  This means that police can put you in handcuffs, take you to jail, charge you with a crime, book you, and release you on bail.  You will also have to address the charges in court; unlike traffic tickets, you cannot simply pay the fine and move along.  Because of this, you may want to bring an attorney with you to court to help protect your rights and fight your case.

The penalties for these offenses depend on the level of crime.  Disorderly persons offenses are not technically “crimes,” but they are the lowest level of offense in NJ.  The potential offense levels for vandalism crimes carry the penalties listed below:

  • Third degree crimes carry the potential of 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
  • Fourth degree crimes carry the potential of up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
  • Disorderly persons carry the potential of up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.

Disorderly persons offenses are the lowest level of offense, and some crimes may be able to be “plead down” to this lower level offense.  However, if you defaced a religious building, created intimidating graffiti, or caused more than $500 worth of damage, this may be impossible.

All of these grades of offense carry heavy fines and jail time and a criminal record.  In some cases, your defense attorney may be able to convince the judge to drop the penalties below these standard penalties.  Especially if you are willing to cooperate with terms of supervision for probation, you may be able to avoid jail time.

In any graffiti or vandalism case, the court can require you to pay for any damage you caused as “restitution.”  The court may also order community service, which could involve things like cleaning up graffiti or trash to help restore any harm the community suffered.  Talk to a lawyer about the potential for alternative penalties to help avoid jail time.

If you are a minor charged with a juvenile offense involving graffiti, your penalties, and the entire court process, could be quite different.  Talk to our juvenile defense attorneys for help with your case.

Our Atlantic City Vandalism and Graffiti Lawyers Offer Free Consultations

If you or your child was charged with a crime or juvenile offense for graffiti, talk to an attorney about the case.  Our New Jersey vandalism and criminal mischief lawyers can help you fight your case and stay out of jail.  Especially if the damage you caused is extensive, graffiti charges could mean years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines and restitution.  Call our law offices today for a free consultation at (609) 616-4956.

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