Graffiti may seem like a relatively harmless prank to mischief makers, but the penalties can be quite severe in the State of Texas. Back in 2009, 18-year-old Sebastian Perez of Corpus Christi was sentenced to eight years in state prison, without possibility of parole, for three graffiti offenses and possession of marijuana. The judge was later forced to reduce the sentence because the consecutive prison terms he ordered weren’t allowed. However, another teenager from Corpus Christi, Ralph Mirabal, received a $5,000 fine and eight-year sentence for a string of vandalism charges and failing to abide by the terms of his plea deal.
What counts as graffiti according to Texas law?
Title 7 of the Texas State Penal Code covers “offenses against property,” including arson, criminal mischief, and graffiti. Section 28.08 states that “a person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, the person intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner with paint, an indelible marker, or an etching or engraving device.”
Is graffiti illegal?
Most graffiti offenses are considered misdemeanors, categorized based on loss:
- Class C misdemeanor – losses less than $100
- Class B misdemeanor – losses $100-$750
- Class A misdemeanor – losses $750-$2,500
However, a graffiti crime can be elevated to a state jail felony if the markings are made on a school, institution of higher education, burial site, place of worship, public monument, or a community center that provides medial, social, or educational programs – and the personal property loss is $750 – $30,000.
Graffiti that causes $2,500 – $30,000 in damage is also elevated to a state jail felony, regardless of where it is placed.
- Third degree felony – losses of $30,000 – $150,000
- Second degree felony – losses of $150,000 – $300,000
- First degree felony – losses of $300,000 or more
Charges are typically based on affected property per incident. If the graffiti is completed over the course of multiple visits, each incident may be considered its own punishable offense.
What are the penalties for graffiti?
Texas legislators pride themselves for being “tough on crime.” The punishments for graffiti include:
- Class C misdemeanor (first offense) – fines of up to $500 for first time offenses
- Class C misdemeanor (three offenses within 24 months) – up to 180 days in jail, and fines of up to $2,000
- Class B misdemeanor – 30 to 180 days in jail, and fines of up to $2,000
- Class A misdemeanor – 180 days to 1 year in jail, and fines up to $4,000
- State jail felony – 180 days to 2 years in jail, and fines of up to $10,000
- Third degree felony – 2 to 10 years in jail, and fines of up to $10,000
- Second degree felony – 2 to 20 years in jail, and fines of up to $10,000
- First degree felony – 5 years to life in jail, and fines of up to $10,000
Stiffer penalties are assessed for individuals with previous convictions of any sort or who had possession of a deadly weapon at the time of apprehension for the crime.
What are mitigating circumstances for graffiti offenses?
Depending on the facts surrounding the case, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to reduce or dismiss a graffiti charge with defenses that include:
- The damage done on the property was done by someone else.
- The damage was unintentional or accidental.
- The property owner gave consent to paint or use graffiti on the property.
- The fair market value is less than the assessment provided.
Texas criminal mischief defense attorney Jeff King has years of experience successfully defending individuals charged with graffiti. Contact him for a free case review to explore your legal rights if accused of committing such a crime.
Additional “graffiti penalties in Texas” resources:
- Texas Penal Code – Penalties, http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.12.htm
- Texas Penal Code – Offenses Against Property, http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.28.htm
- Texas Tribune – Lawmakers Face An Uphill Fight in Graffiti Sentencing Reform, https://www.texastribune.org/2013/04/02/graffiti-sentencing-reform-faces-uphill-fight/