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Is Damaging Someone’s Vehicle a Criminal Offense?

July 30, 2020

If you purposefully damage someone’s car, you could be charged with a crime.

Is Damaging Someone’s Vehicle a Criminal Offense?

In movies and TV shows, there is often a dramatic moment when someone is angry — perhaps at being cheated on or for some other reason — and takes a baseball bat to someone else’s car. There are entire songs dedicated to this act: a scorned woman “busts the windows” out of her lover’s car, or takes a Louisville slugger to the headlights. Wanting to do this is understandable in some situations…but is it a crime?

As a criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, CA, if you decide to slash someone’s tires or otherwise damage another person’s vehicle, you could be charged with a crime. Under California law, malicious mischief to a vehicle occurs when a person:

  • Climbs into or onto a car while it is in motion or at rest, with the intent to commit malicious mischief; or
  • Enters a car and attempts to manipulate its levers, starting mechanism, brakes or another device or mechanism of the vehicle, with the intent to commit malicious mischief.

Malicious mischief is defined as defaces, damaging, or destroying the property of another person without their consent. For purposes of this law, items attached to vehicles, such as license plates, hood ornaments, and mirrors. Because of this, if someone decides to take a baseball bat to the mirrors of someone else’s car, they could be charged with malicious mischief.

This offense is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by a term of imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. A court may decide to impose a term of probation in lieu of jail time.

There are a number of potential defenses to a charge of malicious mischief to a vehicle. First, because it is a specific intent crime, the prosecution has to prove that a person acted with the intent to damage, deface or destroy someone else’s property (without their consent). A seasoned criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, CA may be able to show that a defendant did not act with this intent. For example, if you accidentally damaged someone else’s vehicle, you cannot be charged with this crime because you lacked the intent. Second, if you had the owner’s consent to damage their car, then it wouldn’t be considered malicious mischief. While most people would not allow someone to purposefully damage their car, it may occur in situations where the car is in bad condition or is not drivable. Third, there may be a question as to whether the police arrested the right person. If a person goes around smashing the windows of vehicles in a neighborhood, it will probably happen at night. If the prosecutor cannot prove that it was a particular person who committed the crime, then the charge cannot stand.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in California, the Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, CA.

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