What is vandalism?
Vandalism is the crime, punishable under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266, Section 126A, of intentionally painting, marking, or injuring the property of another in a willfully malicious or wanton manner.
This post will answer some frequently asked questions about vandalism.
What does the government have to show to prove someone guilty of vandalism?
The Commonwealth must prove the following four elements of the offense of beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant of the offense of vandalism:
- That the defendant did one of more of the following to property:
- Injured it
- Marred it (i.e. disfigured it)
- Defaced it
- Destroyed it
2. That the defendant did so intentionally
3. That the defendant did so willfully with malice or wantonly
4. That the property was owned or possessed by someone other than the defendant
To prove the second element, the Commonwealth must prove the defendant acted consciously and deliberately, rather than by accident or as the result of negligence.
To prove the third element, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant acted willfully with malice or wantonly.
What is willful and malicious conduct?
The second element that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant of the offense of vandalism is that the defendant willfully with malice or wantonly injured, marred, defaced, or destroyed the property in question.
A person is legally considered to have acted “willfully” if he or she intends both the conduct and its harmful consequences. The act must have been done with intent that it have harmful consequences.
If an act is done “with malice” it is done out of cruelty, hostility, or revenge. To act with malice, a person must act not only deliberately, but also out of cruelty, hostility or revenge toward another.
What is wanton conduct?
The second element that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant of the offense of vandalism is that the defendant willfully with malice or wantonly injured, marred, defaced, or destroyed the property in question.
A person acts “wantonly” when he or she acts recklessly or with indifference to the fact that his or her conduct would probably cause substantial injury to or destruction of, another’s property. The Commonwealth must prove that the defendant consciously disregarded, or was indifferent to this probability.
The specific legal characteristics of “wanton” conduct are ALL of the following:
- The defendant knew his or her conduct would create a risk of substantial injury or destruction of another’s property
2. A reasonable person—knowing what the defendant knew—would have realized the act posed a risk of substantial injury to or destruction of another’s property.
Remember that it is not enough for the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant acted negligently—that is, acted in a way a reasonably careful person would not. To prove the defendant acted wantonly, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant’s actions went beyond mere negligence and amounted to wanton conduct. The defendant must have also intended his or her action, in the sense that it did not happen accidentally.
How do I know there is a substantial risk of property damage?
A person cannot be convicted of wanton injury to property unless it was likely that his or her actions would result in substantial damage to others or their property.
It is not enough legal proof that some slight or insignificant injury was likely to result from a person’s conduct. A person acts “wantonly” only if it is likely that his or her actions will result in substantial harm.
However, it is not necessary that the damage actually was substantial, only that such actions were likely to cause substantial damage. The actual outcome of someone’s actions is sometimes a matter of luck. For this particular legal issue, the law is measuring the nature of the actions, not the outcome.
What is the difference between malicious and wanton conduct?
Willful and malicious property destruction is a specific intent crime requiring proof that the defendant intended both the conduct and its harmful consequences, while wanton property destruction requires only a showing that the actor’s conduct was indifferent to, or in disregard of, the probable consequences.
For example, if a person forcibly enters into an office, there will be without a doubt some destruction of property. However, just because a thief is “messy” in entering the office, does not necessarily mean the thief acted maliciously. A willful actor intends both his conduct and the resulting harm whereas a wanton or reckless actor intends his conduct but not necessarily the resulting harm.
As another example, take children that are throwing rocks from a bridge. Imagine one strikes a car passing below. The act is wanton if the rocks were thrown casually, without thought of striking any cars. However, the act is legally considered willful and malicious if the rocks were aimed at passing cars.
Also remember that destruction of property which accompanies even a violent crime may not, by that consideration alone, qualify as willful and malicious.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH VANDALISM, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.