Pennsylvania's Punishment Discrepancy in Criminal Mischief Cases: Graffiti Comes With Higher Penalties

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

Police in Allentown, Pennsylvania, are looking for a suspect caught on surveillance video spray-painting the side of a building in the city's West End Theater District.

Out of all of the types of vandalism, spray painting and graffiti are the ones that are expressly singled out for harsher punishments under Pennsylvania's criminal mischief laws.

Police Looking for Graffitist in Allentown

Residents and business owners in the area see it as a sure sign of decay in their part of Allentown: A surveillance video has caught a young man spray painting a bunch of balloon letters on the side of a building on North 18th Street.

Before beginning the artwork, the surveillance video clearly shows him scoping out the parking lot for any signs of danger or police.

Pennsylvania's Criminal Mischief Laws Include Vandalism and Graffiti

In Pennsylvania, criminal mischief is a kind of “catch-all” criminal offense that police and prosecutors use to charge people who appear to have damaged someone else's property.

Laid out in Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3304, criminal mischief prohibits things like:

  • Defacing or damaging property
  • Theft by deception or threat
  • Damaging property by using fire or explosives
  • Tampering with property in a way that puts other people in danger

Subsection (a)(4) of § 3304 explicitly outlaws defacing property “with graffiti by use of any aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker or similar marking device.”

Property Damage for Serious Offenses is Lower for Graffiti

Typically, criminal mischief charges will be more severe when the value of the property damage or defacement is higher:

Pecuniary Loss from Damage

Type of Offense for Criminal Mischief

Under $500

Summary Offense

Over $500 but Under $1,000

Third Degree Misdemeanor

Over $1,000 but Under $5,000

Second Degree Misdemeanor

Over $5,000

Third Degree Felony

However, Pennsylvania's criminal mischief law singles out graffiti for higher punishments by lowering the monetary threshold separating summary offenses from misdemeanors.

While it takes more than $500 worth of damage or loss to turn a typical criminal mischief charge from a summary offense into a misdemeanor, it only takes $150 worth of damage if graffiti is involved.

This means that, in Pennsylvania, breaking $151 worth of property can lead to a criminal mischief charge under § 3304 that is graded as a summary offense. However, defacing $151 worth of property with graffiti will lead to a § 3304 charge of criminal mischief that is a third-degree misdemeanor.

LLF Law Firm: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia

The discrepancy in punishments between other forms of criminal mischief and criminal mischief involving graffiti is enough to raise eyebrows and wonder what the Pennsylvania legislature was thinking. It clearly singles out urban areas, where the vast majority of graffiti happens, and the people who live there.

Our Criminal Law Team criminal defense lawyers who legally represents people who have been accused of a variety of property crimes, including criminal mischief and graffiti. Contact us online or call our law office in Philadelphia at 888-535-3686 for the legal help, defense, and guidance you need.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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