Avoid NJ Criminal Mischief Charges for Graffiti and Tagging

A fun night out with friends could quickly turn rowdy…and illegal. If you have been charged with graffiti charges it can be a concerning and nerve-racking experience. It is against the law in NJ to spray paint or otherwise embed your “tag” or nickname on public or private property, unless the property is your own. While it may seem like a minor crime, being caught spraying graffiti can lead to significant criminal consequences, starting with criminal mischief charges. When someone is convicted of a graffiti violation in New Jersey, he or she will normally have a fourth degree crime on their record. Fourth degree crimes carry a potential sentence of up to 18 months in jail. Violations also bring a variety of potential penalties that the court can impose, including a jail sentence, community service and restitution to the defaced property’s owner.

Graffiti at the New Jersey Shore was in the news this past year with the unusual tagging of a 12-foot Minke whale that washed up on shore. The whale was discovered below Atlantic City’s Central Pier and tagged with markings that appeared to be Greek letters.

In the Name

Graffiti and tagging are linked. The word graffiti comes from the Italian “graffare” meaning to scratch, as in on a surface. Yet, today the term graffiti means any sort of illegal application of any substance such as spray paint and markers. Today’s graffiti style began in the late 1970s in New York City.

A “tag” is the most basic writing of an artist’s name, it is simply a handstyle. A graffiti writer’s tag is considered their personalized signature. It is the most common form of graffiti and usually unreadable by those outside the graffiti community. Tags can contain subtle and sometimes cryptic messages and may incorporate the artist’s crew initials or other letters.

Any Kind of Graffiti Can Merit “Criminal Mischief” Charges

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3, a person can be convicted on criminal mischief charges in New Jersey if he or she:

“(1) Purposely or knowingly damages tangible property of another or damages tangible property of another recklessly or negligently in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means listed in subsection a. of N.J.S. 2C:17-2; or (2) Purposely, knowingly or recklessly tampers with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property.”

Due to the nature of the statute, graffiti is not limited to spray painting a wall. It can include any form of artistic defacement of a building, car, structure, (or whale), etc. This can even include etching a name on a wood bench.

Serving the Ocean County and Monmouth County regions, the criminal defense law firm of Villani & Deluca, P.C. Villani & DeLuca will work with you to navigate NJ criminal mischief charges and help obtain the best possible outcome. Contact us today at 732-965-3350 for a free consultation and to speak with an experienced attorney about your vandalism and criminal mischief charges.

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