Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney: Virginia Destruction of Property

“Destruction of Property – Property Damage”

Virginia Property Damage Attorney

This offense may also sometimes be referred to as “defacement,” damage to property,” “removal of property,” or in common-speak, “vandalism.” Property damage cases may potentially involve:

  • tagging (graffiti)
  • pranks
  • revenge
  • politically motivated conduct…

…and much more…even lawful acts carried out in a criminally negligent manner.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the law punishes such actions differently than those actions involving some level of intent to permanently deprive, or steal property. i

The offense may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the circumstances and facts of the alleged offense, including the value of the property and/or property damage.

On this page, a local Fairfax criminal defense firm and Fairfax criminal defense attorney primarily discusses Virginia § 18.2-137. Several other similar or related offenses are also noted. If you have been charged with this offense or any offense related to criminal property damage, we encourage you to take it seriously because it as a criminal offense, it may remain on your adult record for life.

By way of a highly reported example of vandalism in a different, but nearby jurisdiction, you may recall a high profile case in the District of Columbia in 2013, involving green paint splattered on the Lincoln Memorial.

Fairfax Defense Attorney: When Damaging or Destroying Property is a Misdemeanor

Whether or not the alleged offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, Class 3 misdemeanor, or a felony depends on intent as well as the value of the property destroyed or the cost to repair.

If a person “unlawfully destroys, defaces, damages, or removes without the intent to steal,” then it is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor. This portion of the law also applies to:

  • monuments
  • memorials to commemorate veterans of war iii
  • land-related boundary markers (including those which indicate town or city boundaries)
  • trees marked to indicate land boundaries

But if the person is alleged to have intentionally committed the offense, then it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The difference between a Class 1 and Class 3 misdemeanor is important: a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a large fine ($2,500), or both; a Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by a much smaller fine in the amount of $500 (but is a criminal offense which will be reflected on one’s record if arrested…even if found not guilty…unless it is expunged). If you need an analysis of a charge, even if you know you did something wrong, our local Fairfax criminal defense firm may be willing to discuss your case with you at no-cost.

Also worth mentioning is that under this Virginia law, the Class 3 misdemeanor variety of offense may be dismissed if:

the locality or organization that maintains the “injured property, monument, or memorial files a written affidavit . . . stating it has received full payment.” ii

Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Term: “Unlawful” Act

If you are a non-lawyer, be careful with the word, “unlawful.” An action may be deemed “unlawful,” even if it was not done intentionally. Consider the meaning of the word, “negligent.” Merriam-Webster defines the word as follows:

“Failing to exercise the care expected of a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances”

The “property damage” law discussed above can apply not just to an unlawful act, but also to a lawful act if it is done in a criminally negligent way. xvi

Fairfax Defense Attorney Answers: Is Property Damage a Felony or Misdemeanor?

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There are at least two major points to consider if charged with a violation of this Code section:

  • Intent, and
  • Value

If the property is worth $1,000 or more, then the crime is considered a felony. It is the most serious misdemeanor, a Class 1, if the value is less than $1,000.


Note: the first part of the law (sub-section A) uses the word, “unlawfully.” The second part (sub-section B) uses the word, “intentionally.” iib

Fairfax Defense Attorney Answers Question: What does “Value” Refer to?

Fairfax criminal defense attorneyThe law uses the following language with regard to the “value” aspect: “…value OF or damage TO…” (emphasis added).

What if there is a dispute with regard to the value of the property completely destroyed, or, what if there is a dispute as to the extent (value) of the damage caused? The law tells us that the Commonwealth may offer proof of:

  • “fair market value” of the cost to repair the property, or
  • “fair market value” of the cost of replacement.

Not only is the offense itself punishable by a $2,500 fine (for either a Class 6 felony or Class 1 misdemeanor), but the court can also order the defendant to pay “restitution,” which is the value of the damage alleged to have been inflicted. If you have been accused or already charged, a local Fairfax criminal defense firm, and our Fairfax criminal defense attorney may be able to help; we can explain the difference between the particular type of felony or misdemeanor relevant to your case, based on the facts unique to the situation.

The big difference between the Class 6 felony and Class 1 misdemeanor as far as penalties are concerned, is the maximum imposable jail sentence: up to a year for a misdemeanor offense; up to five years for a felony offense.

Fairfax Defense Attorney Explains: Other Property Damage Laws

Damage to public buildings iv

There is a law that specifically lists various types of property subject to being treated as either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony if the property is inside, or part of a public building that is so damaged. Included are as follows:

  • Windows and doors of public buildings (such as libraries, churches, courthouses, city or town halls, and others)
  • “any property” in such buildings
  • “[A]ny book, newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, map, picture, manuscript, or other property located in any library, reading room, museum, or other educational institution…”

Laws related to fences and trees in public and private areas

Another law specifically covers injuries to fences and trees in public areas. There is yet another law to cover injury to trees and shrubs on any other person’s land. vi Removing or pulling a fence down on another person’s property is covered by a separate Code section. Vii All of these offenses are criminal in nature and regardless of the fine imposed, will stay on an adult’s criminal record for life (unless that person obtains an expungement).

Crimes related to harming animals (considered property) are covered in another section of our website. As of the date of this page’s publication, it has not yet been posted. Bookmark us our join our criminal and traffic law newsletter for updates.

Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Explains: Certain Vehicle Damage and Tampering Property Laws

Rendering vehicle inoperable

Willfully removing parts of a vehicle, boat, or aircraft belonging to another person is a separate offense, but also very serious (Class 1 misdemeanor). Viii The law also applies when the accused is alleged to have removed parts or tampered with the vehicle in order to prevent it from operating or functioning, regardless of whether the intention was to permanently or temporarily render the vehicle inoperable.

Setting in motion

Similar to this aforementioned law, still another law covers the setting in motion of a vehicle, boat, vessel, aircraft, or locomotive. Ix For example, the law might apply in a case where one is accused of “manipulating levers” or brakes in order to set the vehicle in motion. Exceptions do apply in some cases, but we are not covering them on this page. It is a defense in some cases (or, said that the law excepts some persons), when the vehicle involved is repossessed lawfully. xi

Damaging a Rented Vehicle, Boat, Aircraft, or Hired Animal

Along with the many property offense statutes covered on this page, there is a property offense applicable to rented vehicles, boats, planes and even animals. Xii For example: if a person damages a rented car by willfully damaging or recklessly driving it, it is a criminal offense.

Fairfax Defense Attorney“Jackrocks” (Tire Slash Tool)

…or items designed/intended to be used to pierce motor vehicle tires.

It is a criminal offense x to possess an item intended to puncture tires, whether or not it is used on public or private property. Many people are likely familiar with “tire strips” used by police to stop fleeing suspects. These devices are illegal to manufacture or possess, unless you are a police officer engaged in your duties.

Vending Machines and Parking Meters

It may defy logic as to why there are some YouTube videos and other content online depicting exactly what one specific statute in Virginia prohibits (pertaining to vending machines and other devices, including parking meters). Xiii Tampering or attempting to tamper or open a vending machine or any device “designed to receive money,” can be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense. A second or subsequent offense, however, is felonious. Our Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney can handle many different misdemeanors and felonies, and offers a free initial consultation to those charged in Northern Virginia.

Fairfax Criminal Defense Firm Explains: Several Legal Nuances

Property Damage and Burglary Charge from Same Incident

It is possible for a person to be charged with both destruction of property and burglary. Although we intend to cover burglary on another page in the future (subscribe for updates, if you are interested in learning about other offenses), most people likely are aware that burglary is a crime that may very well involve damage. The reason why it is not barred is due to the fact that destruction of property and burglary offenses each contain distinct “proof of fact” requirements. xiv

2 Examples: When a Conviction Should Not Stand

Sometimes, evidence is not sufficient for a finding of guilt. Other times, the evidence would be sufficient, however, the status or rights of the person accused overrides the prosecution’s ability to try the case.

If a person is a rightful owner of the property in question, then it is said to be a “bona-fide claim of right.” If this is the case, then the destruction of property lawi does not apply. xv

It is feasible that a person could be charged with a felony for destroying or damaging some property valued at $1,000 or more according to the Commonwealth Attorney; but if there is a failure on the part of the Commonwealth to prove the value required for such a felony conviction, then the case could potentially later be retried as a less serious misdemeanor. If charged with property damage in Northern Virginia, we invite you to reach out to our friendly Fairfax Criminal Defense firm.

[i] § 18.2-137. Injuring, etc., any property, monument, etc.

[ii] § 18.2-137(A) . Injuring, etc., any property, monument, etc.

[iib] § 18.2-137(B). Injuring, etc., any property, monument, etc.

[iii] § 15.2-1812. Memorials for war veterans.

[iv] § 18.2-138. Damaging public buildings, etc.; penalty.

[v] § 18.2-139. Injuries to trees, fences or herbage on grounds of Capitol, or in any public square.

[vi] § 18.2-140. Destruction of trees, shrubs, etc.

[vii] § 18.2-143. Pulling down fences or leaving open gates.

[viii] § 18.2-146. Breaking, injuring, defacing, destroying or preventing the operation of vehicle, aircraft or boat.

[ix] § 18.2-147. Entering or setting in motion, vehicle, aircraft, boat, locomotive or rolling stock of railroad; exceptions.

[x] § 18.2-147.2. Devices for puncturing motor vehicle tires.

[xi] § 18.2-148. Bona fide repossession under lien.

[xii] § 18.2-149. Injury to hired animal, aircraft, vehicle or boat

[xiii] § 18.2-152. Stealing from or tampering with parking meter, vending machine, pay telephone, etc.

Graffiti Image: “Scene” by Salvatore Vuono | freedigitalphotos.net

Flat Tire Image: “Flat Tire Of Old Car” by Toa55 | freedigitalphotos.net

Broken Windshield Image: “Broken Windshield” by David Castillo Dominici | freedigitalphotos.net


[xiv] Fitzgerald v. Commonwealth, 11 Va. App. 625, 401 S.E.2d 208 (1991).

[xv] Wise v. Commonwealth, 98 Va. App. 382, 429 S.E.2d 893 (1993).

[xvi] Crowder v. Commonwealth, 16 Va. App. 382, 429 S.E.2d 893 (1993).

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Brenton D. Vincenzes is a lifelong Fairfax County resident and Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer. He is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National College of DUI Defense, NORML, and has been awarded the following in 2014-15: Top 100 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Nationally Ranked Top 10 Under 40 Defense Attorney (National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys) 10 Best in Client Satisfaction for Criminal Defense (American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys) Nationally Ranked Top 1% Attorney Award Recipient (National Association of Distinguished Counsel) As a local leader, Mr. Vincenzes mentors troubled youths, volunteers his time to serve at his church, takes select pro bono clients, and strives to improve the community. Mr. Vincenzes represents men, women, and juveniles through zealous and diligent advocacy, strategic planning, and skilled trial work preparation. Mr. Vincenzes' areas of criminal law practice are broad, and include most felonies and misdemeanors such as: reckless driving, DUI & DWI, drug offenses, assault and battery, domestic violence, assault on an officer, destruction of property, alcohol offenses, firearm offenses, larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and other theft offenses, and moving traffic violations among others. His private legal services are available in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Stafford County, Alexandria, Manassas, Leesburg, South Riding, and other cities and towns.

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