Is Graffiti Legal in Florida?

September 8, 2022 Criminal Defense, Theft/Property Crimes

Graffiti is a form of art that is usually tied to societal or political messaging and shown in public places like on the sides of buildings, under bridges, on walls, or inside abandoned structures. The term graffiti originates as a reference to ancient inscriptions on the walls of ancient structures and ruins. The graffiti in these times consisted of words or drawings of figures and can be seen on the ruins of Pompeii and the Catacombs of Rome. Now, the term essentially means graphics applied to a surface. Although regarded in artistic circles as an ancient form of self-expression, just like any other art form, graffiti is viewed by many today as a form of vandalism.

In this blog post, we will discuss the legality of graffiti and any associated penalties for vandalism.

So, Is Graffiti Art or Vandalism?

Florida sides not with artists who appreciate the development and artistic value of graffiti, but with the latter view that such art is actually vandalism. Graffiti falls under the crime of vandalism, codified in Florida Statute Section 806.13. It is classified as “criminal mischief” and the statute states that “[a] person commits the offense of criminal mischief if he or she willfully and maliciously injures or damages by any means any real or personal property belonging to another, including, but not limited to, the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto.”

Penalties for Graffiti Criminal Mischief

The penalties for criminal mischief increase depending on the extent of property damage. Here are the penalties:

Property Damages of $200 or Less

If the graffiti results in $200 or less of property damage, the offense is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not to exceed 60 days and a fine of up to $500.

Property Damages of $200 – $1,000

If the graffiti results in $200 – $1,000 of property damage, the offense is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Property Damages of $1,000 or More

If the graffiti results in $1,000 or more of property damage, or if there is interruption or impairment of a business operation or public communication, transportation, supply of water, gas or power, or another public service that costs more than $1,000 to fix, the offense is classified as a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Additionally, the statute provides for increased penalties for repeat offenders:

One or More Previous Convictions

If an offender has committed this offense one or more times previously, the instant offense will be reclassified as a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Furthermore, there are increased penalties depending on what type of building the graffiti is affixed to:

Place of Worship

If the offender willfully and maliciously defaces or damages any church, synagogue, mosque, or place of worship, or any religious article in the place of worship, and the property damage is $200 or more, the offense will be classified as a third-degree felony.

Historic Property

If the offender, without the consent of the owner, willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or damages a memorial or historic property, causing property damage greater than $200, the offense will be classified as a third-degree felony. Additionally, the offender will be required to pay restitution for the full cost of repair of such property.

Public Telephones or Equipment

If the offender, without the consent of the owner, willfully destroys or substantially damages a public telephone, cables, wires, fixtures, antennas, amplifiers, or any other equipment, rendering a public telephone inoperative, the offense will be classified as a third-degree felony.

Sexually Violent Predator Detention or Commitment Facility

If the offender willfully and maliciously defaces or damages a sexually violent predator detention or commitment facility or any property in those facilities, causing property damages of over $200, the offense is considered a third-degree felony.

Graffiti Enhancements

The statute further provides for graffiti-specific penalties. According to the statute, any person who violates the statute due to graffiti must, in addition to the above criminal penalties, be required to pay fines:

  • First Conviction – $250
  • Second Conviction – $500
  • Third or More Convictions – $1,000

Additionally, those who are convicted under this statute due to the placement of graffiti will be required to, in addition to the above criminal penalties and fines, perform between 40 – 100 community service hours involving the removal of graffiti.

Penalties for Minors

As graffiti is seen as predominantly a part of youth culture, there are specific provisions in the statute for minor offenders. If a minor is found to have committed criminal mischief vandalism, the court may revoke the minor’s driver’s license for up to one year, withhold issuance of the license, or extend a period of suspension of revocation if one already exists at the time of conviction. Minors facing these penalties may attempt to reduce them by completing community service at the rate of 1 day for each hour of community service performed.

What are some Defenses of Graffiti and Vandalism?

While it all depends on the specific facts of the case, a skilled defense attorney might be able to reduce or dismiss a graffiti or vandalism charge in Florida. These are some available defenses that can be brought up:

  • The damage was done by somebody other than the defendant,
  • The damage to the property was not intentional and it occurred as an accident,
  • The owner of the property consented to the use of paint or graffiti on the private property.
  • The property was jointly owned by one of the participants in the artistic venture.
  • A legal justification or extenuating circumstance excuses the defendant’s conduct.

It’s important to note the distinction between the sanctioned and unsanctioned painting of property. Quite a few counties and municipalities have recently started to sanction and celebrate the nationwide movement of public art.

Florida is one of the many States to join this nationwide movement that allows artists to use blank walls as canvases in creating tourist-worthy murals. Many private groups have recently gone as far as to not just seek young talent but pay renowned artists to help decorate and bring new life to their properties and communities. Keep in mind that any unsanctioned painting or spray painting of property remains illegal in the state. 

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Though many view graffiti as an art form, Florida is not among that crowd. Graffiti-related offenses can carry harsh fines and penalties. If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal mischief in Florida, contact a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience and will fight zealously for your freedom. Contact us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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