Vandalism of a law enforcement memorial, or a firefighter memorial, is a crime in California (PC 621(a)). The penalties, punishments, and possible jail sentences are higher for vandalizing a law enforcement memorial, or a firefighter memorial, than those penalties, punishments, and jail sentences that are normally associated with vandalism crimes in general.
This article discusses the law, the punishments, and the common defenses that are related to the crime of vandalism of a law enforcement, or firefighter memorial. We have also included some post-conviction topics related to this crime. For further information, contact our team of criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation.
Note: The law, punishments, and common defenses that apply to the crime of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial are exactly the same as those related to vandalism of a firefighter memorial; therefore, for purposes of brevity, we will refer to the crime only as vandalism of a law enforcement memorial.
PC 621(a) Law:
Every person who maliciously destroys, cuts, breaks, mutilates, effaces, or otherwise injures, tears down, or removes any law enforcement memorial or firefighter's memorial is guilty of a crime (PC 621(a) Abbrev.).
Maliciously Defined: To do something maliciously under the PC 621(a) statute simply means that the defendant intended to do harm to the memorial. This means that the defendant is not guilty of vandalizing a law enforcement memorial unless she intentionally attempts to harm the memorial and she actually does harm to the memorial. This is discussed further below at PC 621(a) Defenses.
Example: If the defendant purposefully sprays paint on a law enforcement memorial then the defendant may be charged with the crime of vandalism, or graffiti, of a law enforcement memorial. However, if the defendant accidentally sprays paint on a law enforcement memorial because she is painting near the memorial then she should not be charged with vandalism, or graffiti, or a law enforcement memorial.
Also, if the defendant intended to spray paint on a law enforcement memorial, but the defendant does not act actually spray paint on the memorial, then she should not be charged with vandalism of a law enforcement memorial. Of course, under this scenario, the defendant could be charged with attempted vandalism of a law enforcement memorial (PC 664/621(a)) See Attempt Crimes for more information.
PC 621(a) Punishment:
The crime of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony under California law. This means the crime is classified as a wobbler. Whether or not the district attorney charges felony or misdemeanor PC 621(a) charges depends largely on the scope of the damage to the memorial, the level of sophistication used to commit the crime, the defendant’s criminal history (if any), the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the district attorney the defendant’s lawyer, and more.
Jail: When PC 621(a) is charged as a felony, the defendant could face up to sixteen month, two years, or three years in jail, depending on the presence of any mitigating or aggravating factors and assuming the defendant is not granted a non-incarceration probation sentence (see Probation Sentence Below). When PC 621(a) is charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant could face up to three hundred sixty three days (363) in jail (if the defendant is not granted a probation sentence).
Probation Sentence: With many cases of PC 621(a) charges, the defendant could be granted a probation sentence after a conviction. A probation sentence is period of supervision as opposed to an actual jail sentence. A probation sentence after a conviction for vandalism of a law enforcement memorial is not a guarantee, but there is generally no restriction to a probation sentence in these cases unless there is a criminal penalty enhancement that is added to the PC 621(a) charges that precludes a probation sentence. See Penalty Enhancement for more information.
Terms of Probation: If the defendant is granted a probation sentence after a conviction for vandalism of a law enforcement memorial then she will be ordered to fulfill terms (conditions) of probation. These probation terms usually include the order to pay restitution, stay out of trouble (no misdemeanor or felony crimes), pay fines, stay away from certain locations (restraining orders), and more.
Felony probation has more restrictive terms for the defendant than misdemeanor probation. Also, felony probation, or formal probation, is monitored by a probation officer and there are extra costs that must be paid by the defendant to have this supervision. Misdemeanor probation, also called summary or informal probation, is monitored by the court and the terms tend to be less restrictive than those associated with felony probation.
Note: A probation sentence can include an order to serve a jail sentence. For example, the defendant in a PC 621(a) case could be placed on probation with a term that she serve ninety days in jail. However, when the defendant is ordered to serve a jail sentence as a term of probation in a PC 621(a) case, that jail sentence may usually be served alternatively on work release or house arrest. Also, the jail sentence associated with a probation sentence is usually much shorter than the maximum jail sentence that the defendant could have received if she were otherwise not granted a probation sentence (up to three years in a felony PC 621(a) case). For more information, see Felony v. Misdemeanor Probation.
Community Service: Community service is a type of manual labor punishment that is sometimes ordered as part of a probation sentence. Community service is different than work release even though both of those terms refer to manual labor. Community service in a PC 621(a) case can include working at an animal shelter, working at a church or morgue, and more. The idea behind community service is more rehabilitative than punishment and the community service is intended to address the causes and rehabilitation of the defendant’s criminal behavior. However, in many vandalism of a law enforcement cases, the defendant is not allowed clean graffiti because that would give the vandal access to the tools that could be used to commit further vandalism or graffiti.
Split & Suspended Jail Sentence: In some PC 621(a) cases, where the defendant is convicted after a trial or by plea negotiation with the district attorney, the defendant may be allowed to split or suspend her jail sentence. This is allowed under California’s new PC 1170(h) law which applies to PC 621(a) cases.
In short, a defendant convicted of a felony vandalism of a law enforcement memorial charge may have his jail sentence split (served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release), or suspended (not served unless the defendant violates a term of her out-of-custody release). Also, PC 170(h) sentencing allows the defendant to serve her incarceration in a local county jail, as opposed to a state prison. This is true even if the defendant is ordered to serve more than a year of incarceration.
For example, if the defendant is sentenced to sixteen months in jail after a conviction for PC 621(a), then the defendant might only have to serve half of that jail sentence in an actual jail. When you factor in good behavior conduct credits, which can further reduce the jail sentence, then the defendant might only serve four months of that sixteen month sentence in an actual jail. (See Conduct Credits below).
Three Strikes Sentencing: The crime of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial is not a serious or violent crime as those terms are defined under California law at PC 1192.7 and PC 667.5, respectively. Therefore, PC 621(a) is not considered a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law.
Crime Involving Moral Turpitude: The conduct that underlies a criminal charge of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial is conduct that is considered morally wrong or otherwise involves deceit. This means that any conviction of PC 621(a) could lead to immigration consequences for non-US citizens, professional licensing consequences for licensed professionals, and military service consequences for persons who want to either join the military, who are enlisted in the military, or who are veterans of any military branch. Crimes involving moral turpitude, including PC 621(a), can also have a negative impact on the defendant veracity for honestly at subsequent court hearings where the defendant intends to testify as a witness.
Conduct Credits: If the defendant is ordered to serve any jail or work release sentence after a conviction for vandalism of a law enforcement memorial than that sentence may be reduced by up to fifty percent (50%) for her good conduct while she is in jail or while she is serving work release. This applies to both felony and misdemeanor convictions of PC 621(a).
For example, if the defendant is ordered to serve two years after a felony conviction for PC 621(a), then that jail sentence will only be one year if the defendant serves her incarceration with good behavior. This good conduct credit is applied in addition to possible PC 1170(h) sentencing which can further reduce the defendant actual incarceration time; thus, a two ear jail sentence can actually be as short as six months or less in PC 621(a) cases.
Other Punishments: In addition to any possible jail or probation sentence, if the defendant is found guilty of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial, she could face the following additional penalties and/or punishments: civil lawsuits, restitution, criminal protective orders, probation or parole violations, firearm prohibition, court fines and fees, harsh probation or parole terms, and more.
Note: The scheduled bail amount for PC 621(a) violations in San Bernardino County is $5,000 for misdemeanors and $25,000 for felonies. This amount may be reduced or increased at a bail hearing. To learn more about bail and bail hearings, see Bail Information.
PC 621(a) Defenses:
There are many different defenses that might apply to a criminal charge of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial. The defense that fits best to any PC 621(a) charge depends on the facts of the case and the circumstances of the defendant. With that in mind, common defenses to a charge of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial include: Insufficient evidence, alibi, intoxication, illegal search and seizure, statute of limitations, insanity, and coerced confessions.
Note: The statute of limitation is a law (statute) that forbids prosecution if the district attorney does not prosecute timely (limitations). For PC 621 crimes the statute of limitation is three years from the date of the defendant’s vandalism. This is true whether or not the crime is charged either as a misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony. There are other limitations that apply for the statute of limitations defense. For more information, see Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases.
Note: If the defendant was arrested for PC 621(a), but she was not timely prosecuted for the same, she might have her case dismissed for the district attorney's failure to prosecute in a timely manner. This is true even if the statute of limitations has not yet expired for the offense. For more information, see Serna Motions.
Note: Mistake of fact is rarely a defense in PC 621(a) cases. Mistake of fact is a defense where the defendant is operating under a mistaken belief about a circumstance, but if the defendant’s belief was not mistaken as to that circumstance, then her conduct would not amount to a crime. For example, if the defendant does not know that the memorial she is defacing is a law enforcement memorial, or a firefighter memorial, but she knows she is otherwise vandalizing someone else’s property, then a mistake of fact defense will not apply to exonerate her because her conduct is criminal in nature even if she believed she was defacing a non-law enforcement memorial.
Double Jeopardy: Double jeopardy is a defense that ordinarily precludes subsequent prosecution of the defendant for the same offense. However, double jeopardy does not apply where the prosecuting sovereign is different in a subsequent prosecution. In fact, PC 621(b) specifically states that any prosecution for vandalism of a law enforcement memorial does not preclude a prosecution by the federal government for the same conduct, including any prosecution under section 1318 of the Military and Veteran’s Code (PC 621(b)).
Note: Remember that the crime of PC 621(a) requires the district attorney to prove that the vandalism was purposeful, as opposed to accidental. The district attorney must also prove that there is actual damage to the memorial. For example, if the defendant attempts to destroy a law enforcement memorial with a hammer, but the memorial is not damaged at all because it is made of solid steel, then the district attorney should not be able to maintain the PC 621(a) charges. However, under this circumstance, the district might still charge an attempted vandalism of a law enforcement memorial, which is a lesser crime in terms of punishment.
Reduce Felony to Misdemeanor: As stated, the crime of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial may be charged either as a misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony. This means that PC 621(a) is a wobbler crime (it “wobbles” back and forth from felony to misdemeanor and vice versa). Sometimes the district attorney, or the judge, will reduce a felony PC 621(a) charge to a misdemeanor as part of either a plea deal, or after the judge is convinced by the defendant’s lawyer that reduction is in the best interest of justice. A reduction of a vandalism crime from a felony to a misdemeanor is not a complete defense of course, but the ramifications and benefits to the defendant are dramatic. The most important of which is the fact that if the defendant violates her probation the maximum amount of jail she faces is one year after the PC 621(a) charge is reduced to a misdemeanor.
Civil Compromise: A civil compromise is a procedure whereby the district attorney will agree to dismiss the criminal charges against the defendant if the alleged victim is willing to drop the charges (does not want prosecution) and the defendant compensates the alleged victim for the damage caused. Civil compromise is a not a true defense in the sense that the defendant is not required to suffer some type of punishment (pay restitution), but it is a good option for defendants where the evidence is strong against her. A civil compromise could apply to a PC 621(a) case if the memorial that is damaged is privately owned. For more information, see Civil Compromise.
Diversion: Diversion is another type of negotiated defense whereby the defendant is not completely exonerated, but rather, criminal prosecution is diverted and the criminal charges are dismissed, so long as the defendant is willing to perform certain conditions similar to probation terms (pay restitution, stay out of trouble, attend diversion classes, and more). Diversion is not a true defense, but like a civil compromise, a diversion is a good option for a defendant in a PC 621(a) case where the evidence is fairly clear and incriminating against the defendant. For requirements, see Diversion.
PC 621(a) Post Conviction Issues:
Post-conviction relief for PC 621(a) includes, but is not limited to, the following: An appeal to superior court to overturn the defendant's misdemeanor or felony conviction or related sentence, expungement of the defendant’s criminal conviction, certificate of rehabilitation and/or governor’s pardon, early termination or modification of probation terms, and more.
Note: If the defendant was arrested for vandalism of a law enforcement memorial, but she was never actually prosecuted for some reason, or she was prosecuted and was ultimately found not guilty after a jury trial, then she might be able to have her arrest for PC 621(a) sealed and destroyed. For more information, see Seal and Destroy Arrest Records.
To learn more about the crime of vandalism of a law enforcement memorial, or PC 621(a), or to talk to a criminal defense lawyer near you, contact our Redlands based criminal defense lawyers today. We offer free consultations for criminal charges arising out of all San Bernardino County cities, including Yucaipa, Redlands, Fontana, Ontario, Upland, Chino, Rialto, Highland, San Bernardino, and more. Our attorney are available every day of the week and we can provide consults for suspects in local jails, including West Valley Detention Center (WVDC), and Central Detention Center (CDC). Call today!
Vandalism (PC 594)
Looting (PC 463)
Graffiti (PC 640.6)
Unlawful Assembly (PC 407 & 408)
Obstruct Public Road (PC 647c)
Trespass (PC 601 602)
Disturbing the Peace (PC 415)
Conspiracy to Commit a Crime (C 182)
Attempt Crimes (PC 664)