A charge or a criminal citation for malicious damage can result from any kind of property damage, destruction, or vandalism, from keying a car, a road rage incident, graffiti, breaking things in a domestic dispute, or hitting something with your car otherwise damaging the property of another.
The act of a criminal property damage offense is known as Malicious Damage in the state of Massachusetts under the criminal statutes. The charge and potential sentence you face all depends on your mindset at the time of the offense.
Defending a Malicious Damage Charge
Most malicious damage charges result in a criminal citation to a clerk magistrate’s hearing. If the officer witnesses the incident, you could be arrested. While the criminal penalties allow for jail time, that almost never happens.
However, any criminal record is something you want to avoid. And a hearing is absolutely the best way to stop any criminal charge from appearing on your record or on a background check.
Attorney’s who are experienced at these hearings can often get the magistrate to drop the criminal charge completely in exchange for paying for any damage.
Even if you are arrested or the charge goes forward from a hearing, there is still a very good chance we can help you avoid a criminal record, with an alternate disposition of a pretrial probation, or a pretrial hearing.
Call the Law Offices of Russell Matson for a free consultation on winning your hearing and avoiding a criminal property damage charge at (781) 817-6332.
Malicious Damage Laws & Penalties
If you acted “willfully and maliciously” your possible sentence will be up to 10 years in prison and fines of $3,000 or 3 times the amount of the damage caused, whichever is greater, or up to 2 ½ years in jail.
If, however, you acted “wantonly” the penalty for wanton destruction of property is a maximum of 2 ½ years in jail or a fine of $1,500 or three time the value of the damage, whichever is greater.
The distinction is if you act deliberately, or something closer to carelessly when causing damage to property that results in a malicious damage offense.
If the damage is valued at less than $250, you face possible jail time of up to 2 ½ months and fines equal to 3 times the amount of the damage.
Ref: MGL §266-127
Leaving the Scene of Property Damage Citation in Massachusetts
If you struck an object or building with your car, and left without notifying anyone, you can also be charged with leaving the scene of property damage, a separate criminal charge.
Most of the time this is also initiated via a criminal citation to appear at a clerk magistrate’s hearing (see above).
The good news is that if you get a criminal citation for both malicious damage and leaving the scene of property damage, there is still a very good chance to avoid any criminal charge being issued. Your auto insurance policy will typically cover the damages, so there may not even be any additional out of pocket expenses, expect for an attorney to help you avoid a criminal charge at the hearing.
Destruction of Certain Properties and Buildings
Some specific sites for damage or vandalism in Massachusetts will result in a more serious criminal felony charge, due to the sensitive or sacred nature of the location.
If you are facing accusations of willfully, intentionally, or wantonly destroying or defacing any of the following properties, you could be charged with this offense:
- Burial grounds
- Any house of worship
- Community center
- Educational facility
If the property damage or destruction is valued at more than $5,000, you will face a potential 5-year prison sentence and fines of 3 times the amount of the damage.
If the damage is less than $5,000, you face 2 ½ years in jail and a fine of $2,000 or 3 times the value of damage, whichever is greater.
Ref: MGL §266-127A
Defacement of Property/ Graffiti
Graffiti is defined as intentionally, willfully and maliciously, or wantonly marking, painting, scratching, or etching into someone else’s property including walls, buildings, fences, rocks, signs, or monuments. If facing this charge, you potential sentence could be as much as 3 years in prison with fines reaching $1,500 or up to 3 times the amount of the damage, whichever is greater.
A conviction of this offense also warrants a driver’s license suspension for one year.
Ref: MGL §266-126A