Although many people consider graffiti an art form and others deem it a form of expression, to law enforcement officials, ‘tagging’ or creating graffiti is considered vandalism. Recently, a 21-year-old man (name withheld to protect the accused’s privacy) was arrested by Santa Cruz police officers on charges of felony vandalism. It seems that the man, a self-identified ‘tagger,’ had tagged the terms “GREB” and/or “BERG” on pieces of so-called public property in the Santa Cruz area. He is also meant to be linked to tags in Bakersfield, Seattle and other areas along the west coast.
According to California Penal Code 594 (“Vandalism”), it is unlawful to damage, destroy, or deface another person’s property in any way, including public property. As the severity of vandalism charges are determined by the general value of the property in question, it will be difficult for prosecutors in this case to determine the real value of any city parks, benches, etc. that the man has tagged. Vandalism becomes a ‘wobbler’ (a crime for which prosecutors must make the determination as to whether they will treat the particular situation as a misdemeanor or as a felony) when the damaged property is valued in excess of $400. Penalties may include a $10,000 fine and up to 3 years in county jail.
With graffiti, thee are very specific rules (see also CA PC 640.5 and 640.6) . For example, if the cost of repairing the vandalized object is less than $250, then prosecutors will likely treat it as a misdemeanor. Depending upon the number of convictions that you already have for vandalism, you will likely spend up to 1 year in county jail, complete some community service hours and pay a $3,000 fine.