People often associate the word “vandalism” with teens and youth and may think of vandalism as “pranks” or “kids just being kids.” In truth, vandalism is a serious crime. Parents need to ensure that their children and teens understand the serious and potentially life-altering consequences of vandalizing property.
Under Georgia law, vandalism charges generally fall into one of three categories.
The crime of criminal trespass includes intentionally defacing or destroying property without the owner’s consent. Acts of vandalism that cause less than $500 in damage fall into this category. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail plus fines.
Second-degree criminal damage
Acts of vandalism that cause property damage of $500 or more fall under second-degree criminal damage. This is a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison plus fines. This section also applies if a person willfully and maliciously uses fire or explosion to damage property, regardless of the cost of the damage.
First-degree criminal damage
First-degree criminal damage includes malicious acts of vandalism which endanger human life, without regard to the monetary value of the damage. This crime is a felony, punishable by one to ten years in prison and fines.
Georgia has special rules for vandalism to certain types of property, regardless of the value of the damage. These include military monuments and markers, mailboxes and/or mail, places of worship, government property and public utility property or equipment.
To a teen, a little spray paint may seem like a harmless joke. However, especially in neighborhoods with high property values and expensive vehicles, $500 in damage happens in the blink of an eye. A felony charge is no laughing matter for a teen’s future.