Criminal damage charge & Vandalism

You have probably heard of both vandalism and criminal damage to property and might think of them as different crimes. They actually have the same meaning and are prosecuted under the same act. A criminal damage charge can result in large fines and imprisonment. With Legal Aid you may receive help from a free criminal defense lawyer.

Criminal damage & vandalism FAQ

A: The prosecution has to argue that you either had the intent to cause damage or that you were reckless with your actions. So a genuine accident is not a crime but the prosecution may try and prove it was not an accident.

Vandalism Scottish law

The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 is a part of the law covering crimes involving property and vandalism damage. Our free criminal defense lawyer team has fought many charges for clients over the years and gained many acquittals.

Vandalism in Scotland occurs when a person willfully or recklessly destroys or damages the property of another person without reasonable excuse.

Vandalism Scotland Conviction

Anyone convicted of vandalism is liable on summary conviction. Summary procedure is used for less serious offences but you may still find yourself in court. Trials under summary procedure are conducted without a jury. They may be seen before a Sheriff or Justice of the Peace courts.

Vandalism sentence

If seen in the Justice of the Peace courts the maximum sentence is 60 days or a level 3 fine. If your case is heard in the sheriff court then a first-offender will face up to 3 months imprisonment or a fine. Reoffenders will face up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine. Our free criminal defense lawyer team has experience in fighting these charges so call today.

Criminal damage and vandalism, meaning property damage, can be a range of actions. As such, anything from car vandalism such as smashing a window and ‘keying’ a car, all the way through to arson is an offence. 

There are several elements to criminal damage to property or vandalism charges, so we’ll break them down here.

What is criminal damage & vandalism?

If you’re charged with criminal damage to property, it might be because:

● You damaged or destroyed property that belonged to someone else.

● You intended to destroy or damage the property or,

● You were reckless about whether the property would be destroyed or damaged.

● You didn’t have a lawful excuse for the damage caused.

Let’s look at each of these definitions and what they mean:

What makes something ‘property’?

Firstly, the property must be real. This means it has to be something that exists or that you can touch. ‘Property’ includes money and land as well as things like cars, buildings and personal possessions.  

Secondly, ‘property’ has to belong to someone. So if someone has custody or control over something or has a right or interest in it, it belongs to them.

It’s also worth noting that if you damage your own property and another party has an interest in it, you can face a criminal damage charge despite being the owner.

An example might be setting fire to your own home, which has a mortgage on it. In this case, the bank who holds the mortgage has a right or an interest in your property. This would become grounds for a criminal damage charge. 

That’s because, under the law, your home is also the property of the bank.

What is considered criminal damage to property?

Although ‘damage’ isn’t defined in the act, courts include not only temporary or permanent damage but also a temporary or permanent reduction in the property’s value or usefulness.

In other words, if the owner of the property cannot use it for a while, maybe because it has to dry out or be cleaned, or the property is usable but now worth less than before, then it is still criminal damage.

So, smearing mud on someone’s wall or throwing eggs at a car or house is criminal damage because it interferes with the property’s value or usefulness.

What does ‘reckless’ mean?

The legal term for ‘recklessness’ is ‘Mens Rea,’ which means taking an unjustified risk.

You’d be considered ‘reckless’ if:

● You were aware of the risk of damage when you offended.

● When the damage happened, you knew that’s what would happen.

● You were unreasonable to take the risk, knowing the circumstances.

These definitions still apply, even if you were drunk at the time so you can’t claim you had too much to drink as a defence.

What does ‘without lawful excuse’ mean?

A court might decide you had a lawful excuse if:

● You genuinely believed the owner of the property had agreed to the damage or they would have agreed if they had known what the circumstances were

● You believed at the time that the property needed immediate protection and that your actions were reasonable considering the circumstances.

When it comes to interpreting this part of the act, it doesn’t matter if, in hindsight, your actions were wildly incorrect or even ridiculous.  

What matters is whether your actions were justified and whether you genuinely believed they were at the time and under the circumstances.

For instance, someone who knocks down a neighbours wall because it was dangerous and about to fall could argue they had a lawful excuse, but someone who damages a wheel clamp having parked on private property could not.

What about threatening to destroy property?

The criminal damage Act also covers threatening to damage or destroy property. This can be in two ways:

● By threatening a person and saying you will destroy their property or,

● Threatening to damage your own property in a way that would endanger the life of someone you are trying to scare

These threats may be construed as threatening or abusive behaviour and allow a prosecution to charge you with a section 38 offence. If you have been charged with this then contact us immediately as penalties are often more severe.

What are criminal damage crime sentences?

● You’ll probably have to pay for the cost of the criminal damage crime and any repairs the property needs

● Where the damage is less than £5000, then the maximum sentence is 6 months in prison.

● If the damage is more than £5000, then the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.

● In cases where there was an intention to endanger life, or your actions were reckless enough to endanger life, courts have the option to impose a life sentence in prison.

Free criminal defense lawyer

The penalties for criminal damage can be severe. If you have received a criminal damage charge, you need to speak to one of our criminal experts urgently.  

We can explore the charges’ circumstances as we’ve talked about here and look into the options open to you. You may be entitled to Legal Aid which will pay for the costs of having expert representation.