Vandalizing school property can take many forms and many names. Sometimes called “malicious mischief,” “criminal mischief,” or “property damage,” vandalism can range from tagging the sides of buildings and bathroom stalls, to smashing windows on school buses and classrooms.

Vandals may see it as a form of entertainment or gang status, but it can be a serious crime. Depending on the state in which the offense was committed, and the value of the property damage, the act can be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with penalties ranging from fines to prison time, or both.

Juvenile Vandalism

Most vandals of school property are minors, and are therefore tried in the juvenile justice system. Standard remedies include:

  • Restitution: to be paid to the property owner in the amount to repair or replace the item damaged
  • Fines: often up to $500
  • Diversion: usually 12 months or more, that can range anywhere from warn-and-release to psychotherapy
  • Probation: usually 12 months or more, with stiff penalties imposed if probation is violated, such as juvenile detention
  • Detention: judges can sentence convicted vandals to full-time or weekend stays at detention centers, or even move then to juvenile homes with advanced supervision. This remedy is reserved for felonious vandalism or repeat offenders.

Juvenile records are generally sealed, and can even be petitioned to be destroyed. However, some states require that schools be notified if a record exists (though not the content of the records), and such notification may come with its own set of penalties.

Parental Liability

Almost all states have a parental liability statute that holds parents liable for a minor’s willful misconduct, usually up to $25,000 for each wrongful act, depending on state law. Though a judge may order a juvenile to get a job in order to pay restitution to a school for vandalism, parents are ultimately liable for the damage, fines, and fees, up to the legal limit.

Hate Crime

If the vandalism is aimed at a particular race, religion or other group, it may also be considered a hate crime, which carries even stiffer penalties and can also be considered a federal offense. Criminal penalties for hate crime vary by state, but are usually considered felonies, which mean they carry a prison sentence greater than one year. Those found guilty of federal hate crimes can face up to ten years in a federal prison.

If your child has been charged with vandalizing school property, or any property, contact a local criminal defense attorney. This can be a serious crime, with dire and potentially expensive penalties imposed, depending on your set of facts, and surely one that no minor would want on their permanent record.

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