Information on the crime of vandalism of a religious house of worship is found at California penal code section 594.3 PC. This article is an overview of the law, penalties, and common defenses related to PC 594.3. For further information, contact our Inland Empire criminal Defense Attorneys.
PC 594.3 Laws
PC 594.3(a): Any person who knowingly commits any act of vandalism to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, building owned and occupied by a religious educational institution, or other place primarily used as a place of worship where religious services are regularly conducted…, is guilty vandalism of a religious house of worship (PC 594.3 Abbrev.).
PC 594.3(b): Any person who knowingly commits any act of vandalism to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, building owned and occupied by a religious educational institution, or other place primarily used as a place of worship where religious services are regularly conducted…, which is shown to have been a hate crime and to have been committed for the purpose of intimidating and deterring persons from freely exercising their religious beliefs, is guilty of a felony vandalism of a religious house of worship (PC 594.3 Abbrev.).
Note: For purposes of PC 594.3(b), “hate crime” means a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: Disability, Gender, Nationality, Race or ethnicity, Religion, Sexual orientation, or an association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics (PC 422.55 Abbrev.).
Also, notice that PC 594.3(b) applies to buildings other than places religious places of worship, if the building is used by the religious entity and the purpose of the vandalism otherwise meets the definition of a hate crime.
PC 594.3 Punishment
Vandalism of a religious house of worship is classified as a “wobbler” offense. This means that penal code 594.3 may be charged either as misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony, depending on the amount of damage caused the defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s criminal history, the level of sophistication associated with the offense, and more. For more information, see Felony v. Misdemeanor Classification of Crimes.
Felony PC 594.3 Jail Sentence: If the defendant is found guilty of PC 594.3 as a felony, the defendant could face up to sixteen months, two years, or three years in a county jail, depending on the circumstances of the case. A probation sentence, with or without incarceration, is possible in felony PC 594.3 convictions, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed.
Misdemeanor PC 594.3 Jail Sentence: If the defendant is found guilty of PC 594.3 as a misdemeanor, the defendant court face up to a year in the county jail. A probation sentence, with or without some jail time, is also possible in misdemeanor cases of PC 594.3. But again, a probation sentence is not guaranteed.
Probation Sentence: As stated, a probation is possible in both felony and misdemeanor cases of PC 594.3. A probation sentence is a period of supervision in lieu of jail; however, some probation sentence can also carry a short jail sentence as a “term of probation.”
Probation sentences are monitored by the court in misdemeanor cases, and by a probation officer in felony cases. The terms of a probation sentence related to vandalism of a church offense will include restraining orders, restitution orders, court fines and more. For more information, see Misdemeanor & Felony Probation.
Whether a defendant is allowed to serve a probation sentence, as opposed to a jail sentence, after a conviction for vandalism to a church or other house of worship, depends on the circumstances of the case, the presence of any mitigating or aggravating factors related to the case or the defendant, the defendant’s criminal history, and the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the district attorney and the defendant or between the judge and the criminal defendant. For more information, see Plea Bargaining in Criminal Court.
Split Sentencing: A felony jail sentence related to a PC 594.3 case may be split between out-of-custody work release and actual jail. In fact, a felony jail sentence for PC 594.3 may be suspended, aka “joint suspension,” which means the defendant does not have to serve the jail sentence if the defendant complies with his out-of-jail conditions of release.
Note: Keep in mind that a judge does not have to grant either a split sentence, or a suspended sentence in any PC 594.3 cases, but the option is available if the judge finds that this type of sentencing is in the best interest of justice. For more information, see Penal Code 1170(h).
Work Release & House Arrest: In some cases of vandalism against a religious place (i.e., church, synagogue, temple, etc.), the defendant may be ordered to serve a work release or house arrest sentence (or community service).
Crime Involving Moral Turpitude: Vandalism of a church, temple, or synagogue is considered a crime involving moral turpitude, or CIMT. This means PC 594.3 is considered a morally reprehensible crime or otherwise involves deceit. CIMT, including convictions of penal code 594.3 carry severe indirect consequences for non-US citizens (deportation, denial of entry in the U.S., denial of citizenship, etc.), professionally licensed defendants (loss of professional license, bar license, Medical Board License, etc.), and defendant who serve, or want to serve in the military (discharge, denial of entry, etc.).
Additional Penalties: In addition to any jail or probation sentence, if found guilty of vandalism of a religious house of worship, the defendant could face civil lawsuits for the damage cause, loss of firearm rights, criminal protective orders, restitution orders, court fees and fines, and more.
PC 594.3 Defenses
A variety of defenses might apply to any PC 594.3 crime depending on the facts of the case. These include insufficient evidence to prove malicious intent (damage to the church, but without vandalism), alibi defense, coerced confession, illegal search and seizure of evidence that inculpates the defendant, lack of hate motivation (for PC 594.3(b) defense), insanity defense, statute of limitations (three years for both misdemeanor and felony violations of PC 594.3), and more.
For more information related to the California crime of vandalism to a religious house of worship, or penal code 594.3, contact our criminal defense attorney today for a free consultation. Our dedicated defense team has successfully handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases in the Inland Empire, including PC 594 crimes. Our Redlands office is centrally located in the Inland Empire, and we serve all IE cities and courts, including Redlands, Fontana, Rialto, Yucaipa, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Upland, Riverside, Victorville, Chino, and more. Call today!