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Felony Vandalism Charges Proper by Adding Damages?

The Second Appellate District recently made new law by affirming a Pomona judge’s decision that felony, rather than misdemeanor, vandalism charges were proper when the total damages are considered.  In this case, there were damages suffered by defendant’s mom and an apartment owner, which when totaled, exceeded the misdemeanor vandalism limits of $400.
About This Article Briefly:  While it may seem unfair if there are separate small acts of vandalism, each a misdemeanor, it is legally proper for a prosecutor to add up the damages from separate acts of vandalism to reach the felony level ($400) and charge defendant with felony vandalism.  We do not like this ruling at all.
Mike Camacho, the Pomona judge who ruled the prosecutor was correct, said felony vandalism charges (Penal Code § 594(a)) were proper when the $382 in repair costs to a car and $265 in damages to a window were added, making the total in excess of $400, the upper limit for misdemeanor vandalism (Penal Code § 594 (b)).

The underlying facts were that Nellie Martinez refused to unlock her apartment to let in her son, Manuel Carrasco, following an argument.  Carrasco flew into a fit of rage, throwing a statue through the apartment window and then, in the same angry outburst, broke two windows of Martinez’s car, parked nearby. 

In other words, and in all fairness to Judge Camacho’s ruling, the two incidents of vandalism were committed in essentially the same outburst, not two hours apart or two weeks apart as perhaps one might believe.  Mr. Carrasco threw the statute through the window and then damaged the car all in pretty much the same angry rage.

The prosecutor charged Carrasco with violating Penal Code § 594(a), felony vandalism, for unlawfully and maliciously damaging or destroying over $400 worth of real and personal property.  The issue was that the property belonged to two different people.  Complicating things for Carrasco, he had two prior prison priors within the last five years, making his exposure quite high. 

The jury then convicted Carrasco of felony vandalism.  Judge Camacho then sentenced Carrasco to three years and four months in state prison.  Judge Camacho sentenced Carrasco to the low term of sixteen months, then added one year for each of the two prison priors (the one year prison prior sentence enhancement under Penal Code § 667.5(b) was repealed on January 1, 2020 under Senate Bill 136, so had Carrasco been sentenced in 2020, his sentence would have been 16 months instead) .

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Carrasco appealed, arguing to the Second Appellate District in People v. Manuel Jesus Carrasco (2012 DJDAR 13433), that he could only be convicted of two counts of misdemeanor vandalism because the damage to each victim did not exceed $400.  In other words, Carrasco was arguing that the prosecutor should not have added the damages together as he or she did.

The Second Appellate District disagreed, funding that the single felony charge was proper because the damage did not result from separate and distinct criminal acts.  Rather, one general impulse caused the damages.  This impulse came from a single event – the refusal to allow him entry into the home.  People v. Manuel Jesus Carrasco (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 715, 147 Cal.Rptr.3d 383.

The appellate court reasoned that in the analogous context of petty theft (Penal Code § 484) versus grand theft (Penal Code § 487), aggregation of the value of multiple stolen items was proper.  For example, when a person shoplifts five items from the same store at the same time, whose total exceeds $950, it is grand theft rather than five charges of petty theft.  We do not like this reasoning, as the items are from the same owner, which was not the situation with Carrasco here.
The Second Appellate District also cited to In re Arthur V (2008), a case where defendant smashed a car window, resulting in $150 of damage and then immediately kicked another person standing nearby, causing that person to drop his cell phone, resulting in $350 in damage.  In that case, the damages were added together, exceeding $400 and felony vandalism charges were filed.

Consequently, the Second Appellate District denied Carrasco’s appeal and affirmed the conviction for felony vandalism.

The citation for the Court of Appeals ruling discussed above is People v. Manuel Jesus Carrasco (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 715, 147 Cal.Rptr.3d 383.

For more information about vandalism, click on the following articles:
  1. In Juvenile Vandalism Case Involving Graffiti, Restitution Cannot Include Investigation Costs
  2. What Is Vandalism and Graffiti (Penal Code § 594)?
  3. Destruction or Spoliation of Evidence Can Cause More Problems Than It May Seem to Solve
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