Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Malicious Destruction of Property and Vandalism


Two similar, but different offenses exist under Massachusetts law. The differences between malicious destruction of property and vandalism are important because the penalties for each can be significantly different. Unfortunately, the laws related to these offenses are somewhat vague, which can lead to prosecutors needlessly charging individuals for a more significant crime.

How are the Charges Different?

Under Massachusetts law, defacement or vandalism of property occurs when there is an intentional, willful, and malicious painting, marking, etching, or other defacing or destruction of the real or personal property of another. This type of property includes almost anything, including fences, buildings, signs, rocks, and monuments. This offense is considered a felony.

An individual convicted of vandalism faces a state prison sentence of up to three years or a house of correction sentence of up to two years. In addition, the individual may be fined up to $1,500 or three times the value of the property involved, whichever amount is greater. The individual will also be ordered to pay to fix the property involved. Convictions of vandalism also will lead to a driver’s license suspension of one year. If the person is under the age of 16, one year is added to the minimum eligible age to drive.

The fine is doubled if the property was a war or veterans’ memorial, monument, or gravestone. The individual will also be required to complete at least 500 hours of community service that is approved by the court. There is also special protection given to certain other property, like churches, synagogues, schools, and places used for burying the deceased.

A similar offense is the malicious destruction of property, which is a felony if the value of the property is greater than $250. This offense occurs when an individual destroys or injures the personal property, house, or building of another. The punishment is a potential 10-year prison sentence and a fine of either $3,000 or three times the value of the property, whichever is greater. However, if the property involved is valued at less than $250, the offense is a misdemeanor. In that case, the punishment is either a fine of three times the value of the property or imprisonment for up to two and a half months.

The issue with these two offenses is that the definitions of what constitutes each are similar. This creates the potential for a charge of defacement or vandalism when the action of the defendant is really more appropriately charged as malicious destruction of property. If the property involved was valued at less than $250, the differences between the charges is significant.

Criminal Defense Help

If you have been charged with either of the above offenses, you face the potential for serious penalties As a result, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Call our office at 617-942-1532 to schedule a free consultation with Boston criminal defense attorney Edward R. Molari. We look forward to discussing how we can help you.