Destruction of property in Virginia is not just a civil matter, to be resolved through lawsuits, but can also rise to the level of a criminal offense, depending upon the circumstances. Under Virginia Code 18.2-137, an individual who "unlawfully destroys, defaces, damages or removes without the intent to steal any property, real or personal, not his own" can be punished by up a fine of up to $500, plus restitution for the damage. Furthermore, if the destruction was intentional, the offense becomes a Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500. Worse still, if the damage was over $1,000, the crime becomes a Class 6 Felony, punishable by up to 5 years in the penitentiary!
As you can see, destruction of property in Virginia is a very serious charge. However, there are numerous defenses that may apply. First, to establish the felony, the Commonwealth must provide direct evidence as to the value of the property destroyed. Very often the Commonwealth will seek to do this through evidence which is inadmissible in court, such as receipts from contractors for repairs. For this evidence to be admitted in court, the contractor must personally appear in court to speak about the repairs, and be subject to cross examination. Time and time again I have been able to exclude this evidence (and thereby avoid a felony conviction for my client), simply by objecting to the presentation of this valuation evidence.
In addition, the Commonwealth must prove that the destruction was willful, or the offense is reduced to a Class 3 Misdemeanor, which is not a jailable offense. This can be a challenging proposition, especially in cases where the defendant has not made any statements outlining their intent at the time of the alleged conduct.
Often times these sorts of offenses can be resolved by a meeting between the parties to the action, whereby the damaged property is restored to its original condition. Very often this is all that the aggrieved party is really looking for anyway.
The bottom line is that there is much that can be done to attack a charge of destruction of property in Virginia. But the first step is to hire and aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact us today!