Keyed a Car in California: Here’s the Worst That Can Happen

Keyed a Car in California: Here’s the Worst That Can Happen

A Common Method of Revenge

We’ve all been mad enough at someone to damage their property. Not everyone acts on these feelings, but those that do can face criminal charges. Keying someone’s car is a common revenge tactic. It seems simple enough. Cars are accessed easily. We often carry keys with us. And it may seem like you can get away with keying a car without any witnesses. In reality, many people who keyed a car are caught by law enforcement in California every day. If you find yourself in that position, here’s the worst that can happen.

What Happens If You Keyed a Car?

Keying cars is considered vandalism under California Penal Code 594. Vandalism is legally defined as defacing, damaging, or destroying real or personal property other than your own without the owner’s permission. Graffiti is a common example of vandalism.

Vandalism is a misdemeanor offense in California but can be charged as a felony under certain circumstances. The penalties for a misdemeanor vandalism charge depend on several factors, including the total value of the damage and the defendant’s prior criminal history.

If the damage of the vandalism is under $400, you could face up to one year in a county jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The fine rises to up to $5,000 if it is your second conviction.

If the damage of the vandalism is over $400, you could face up to one year in a county jail or a fine of up to $10,000 ($50,000 if the damage was more than $10,000) or by both.

You can also be ordered to clean up or repair the damage you caused. If you keyed a car, chances are you will need to have an auto body shop do the work for you, but just know you can expect to cover the bill. The court can also order you to perform community service.

Vandalism can be charged as a felony if the value of the damage is over $400 and you have prior convictions, gang affiliations, or the vandalism was a hate crime.

Because the value of the damage has such a significant impact on the penalties the court can impose, it’s essential you have an estimate of the cost to fix the damage. Some people mistakenly assume if they keyed a car they can pay for the cost of the damages and avoid criminal charges. In reality, if the owner of the car or a witness reports the vandalism to the police, you can face criminal prosecution whether you cover the cost of the damage or not.

If you keyed a car and no one reported it to the police, it is well worth your effort to try to settle with the owner of the car. Once the police file a report, however, settling with the owner won’t get you out of trouble, and the court can order you to cover the cost of the damage in addition to the penalties listed above.

It goes without saying that keying a car is never worth it unless you know for sure the person won’t report it to the police and there are no witnesses. In all other cases, however, keying a car is rarely worth a misdemeanor conviction on your record.

You need to consult with an experienced Visalia criminal defense attorney if you are facing vandalism charges. These charges can be overcome but only with the help of a skilled attorney. Because the value of the damage can affect how you are charged, it’s a good idea to involve an attorney early on. An attorney can work to ensure the value of the damage is not inflated and truly reflects what you did. An attorney might also be able to challenge witness testimony if you were falsely identified.

Facing criminal charges is stressful, but attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team can help. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advocate on your behalf in court and aggressively fight your charges. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense working in Tulare, Fresno, and Kings County and won’t be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.

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