Property Damage in Virginia 101
Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney: Virginia Destruction of Property 101
Part 1: Introduction to Property Damage in Virginia
Part 2: When Damaging Property is a Misdemeanor: Class 1 or Class 3
Part 3: When Damaging Property is a Felony
Part 4: How to Determine "Value"
1. Introduction to Property Damage in Virginia
This offense may be referred to as:
- "damage to property,"
- “removal of property,"
Property damage cases may involve:
- tagging (graffiti)
- politically motivated conduct,
- lawful acts carried out in a criminally negligent manner.
The Commonwealth of Virginia punishes those convicted of property damage offenses differently than those actions involving theft (an intent to permanently deprive, or steal property). The offense may be a misdemeanor or a felony. In this guide, a local Fairfax criminal defense firm and Fairfax criminal defense attorney discusses Virginia § 18.2-137.Other property damage offenses, such as tampering with a vehicle, shall be covered in a future guide. If you have been charged with any offense related to criminal property damage, we encourage you to take it seriously because as a criminal offense, a conviction will remain on your adult record for life.
By way of a highly reported example of vandalism in a different, but nearby jurisdiction, you may recall a high profile case in the District of Columbia in 2013, involving green paint splattered on the Lincoln Memorial.
2. When Damaging Property is a Misdemeanor
Whether or not the alleged offense is a misdemeanor or felony depends upon the value of the property (and/or cost to repair), and the intent of the accused. The offense may be considered a:
- Class 1 misdemeanor
- Class 3 misdemeanor, or
If a person:
“unlawfully destroys, defaces, damages, or removes without the intent to steal,"
then it is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor. This portion of the law also applies to:
- memorials to commemorate veterans of war
- land-related boundary markers (including those which indicate town or city boundaries)
- trees marked to indicate land boundaries
If person is alleged to have intentionally committed the damage, then the crime charged is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The difference between a Class 1 and Class 3 misdemeanor is important: a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by:
- up to a year in jail;
- a large fine ($2,500); or
A Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by a smaller fine of $500 but is still a criminal charge which will be reflected on one’s record. Property damage crimes often are not ignored by employers or prospective employers, due to the nature of the offense.
Possible Case Dismissed?
A Class 3 misdemeanor offense may be dismissed if:
"[T]he locality or organization that maintains the “injured property, monument, or memorial files a written affidavit . . . stating it has received full payment."
An action may be deemed “unlawful," even if it was not done intentionally. Consider the meaning of the word, “negligent." Merriam-Webster defines the word as follows:
“Failing to exercise the care expected of a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances"
Remember: the “property damage" law discussed above can apply not just to an unlawful act, but also to a lawful act if it is done in a criminally negligent way.
3. Felony or Misdemeanor Property Damage?
At least two major points should be considered when assessing whether or not the crime is felonious:
- intent; and,
If the value of hte property damaged is equal to, or greater than $1,000, then it is a felony. If the value is less than $1,000, it is considered a misdemeanor (Class 1).
Note: the first subsection (A) of the law defines the offense using the word, “unlawfully." The second subsection (B) uses the word, “intentionally."
4. What does "Value" Refer to?
The law uses the following language with regard to the “value" aspect:
"value OF or damage TO…" (emphasis added).
What if there is a dispute with regard to the value of completely destroyed property...or, what if there is a dispute as to the extent (value) of the damage caused?
The law tells us that the Commonwealth may offer proof of:
- “fair market value" of the cost to repair the property, or
- “fair market value" of the cost of replacement.
Not only is the offense itself punishable by a $2,500 fine (for either a Class 6 felony or Class 1 misdemeanor), but the court can order the defendant to pay “restitution," the value of the damage inflicted.
The big difference between the Class 6 felony and Class 1 misdemeanor as far as penalties are concerned, is the maximum imposable jail sentence:
- up to a year for a misdemeanor offense;
- up to five years for a felony offense.
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. This page contains information only, and as such, is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Do not rely on anything you read on the internet. Instead, speak with a criminal defense attorney who practices in your jurisdiction (where charged).