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MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY

Have you been charged with destroying property in Las Vegas? Maybe you have been accused of damaging your hotel room or vandalizing a car. Whatever the particular facts of your case, malicious destruction of property can be a serious criminal offense, depending on the value of the property damaged. Read below to learn about how this crime is defined by Nevada law, the potential punishment you might face if convicted, and how a criminal defense attorney can help you avoid those penalties.

WHAT IS MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY?

NRS 206.310 defines the crime of malicious destruction of private property. According to this statute, it is a crime in Las Vegas and everywhere else in Nevada to "willfully or maliciously destroy or injure any real or personal property of another."

Keep in mind, destroying personal property is not always a crime. What makes damaging someone's property a crime is the guilty mental state (mens rea) of the person who destroys the property at the time the act of destruction occurs. As stated above, a person is only guilty of this crime if he destroys the property "willfully or maliciously." If the destruction of property is accidental, you are not guilty of this crime, even if you are negligent in destroying the property. For instance, imagine you borrow a friend's car, drive it negligently, lose control of the vehicle and run into a telephone pole, causing substantial damage. Your friend could sue you in civil court for negligence to cover the damage to the car, but you would not be guilty of the crime of malicious destruction of private property—unless there was evidence you intentionally or maliciously crashed the car.

But how does the law define what is "willful" or "malicious"? Willful means something that is done intentionally. Meaning that the person does a particular thing with the specific intent to cause a specific outcome. NRS 193.0175 defines the term "maliciously." According to this statute, an act done with malice suggests "an evil intent." "Evil intent" may be difficult to define, but according to this same statute, malice "may be inferred from an act done in willful disregard of the rights of another." Therefore, you can only be guilty of the crime of destroying property (as opposed to incurring mere civil liability for money damages) if you intentionally destroy someone's property or you consciously disregard the risk of damage that could occur, given your chosen course of conduct.

Also, note that this statute applies to the malicious destruction of "any real or personal property." Real property is real estate (e.g., houses, apartments, etc.) and personal property is everything else. Personal property is basically any property that can be moved (i.e. it is any property that is not real estate), but according to NRS 193.021, personal property also includes "dogs and all domestic animals and birds, water, gas and electricity, all kinds or descriptions of money, chattels and effects."

Finally, note that it is only a crime to maliciously destroy the property "of another." That means if you own the property, you can do whatever you want with it. You can incur no criminal liability for destroying your own property, even if you do it maliciously or willfully.

POTENTIAL PUNISHMENT FOR DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY

Malicious destruction of private property can range anywhere from a minor misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the value of the property destroyed. According to NRS 206.310, a person who maliciously destroys private property "shall be guilty of a public offense proportionate to the value of the property affected or the loss resulting from such offense." Basically, this means that the higher the value of the property, the more serious the crime.

NRS 193.155 sets the following four ranges with escalating punishments based on loss in property value:

  • Less than $25: a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500. Note that jail time is not authorized for this range of loss in property value.
  • $25 to $249.99: a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of a $1,000 fine and/or 6 months in Clark County Detention Center.
  • $250 to $4,999.99: a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,000 fine and/or one year in the Clark County Detention Center.
  • $5,000 or more: a category C felony, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and/or 1 to 5 years in Nevada State Prison. This is a probationable felony, meaning that the judge has the discretion to suspend the prison sentence and place the defendant on a fixed or indeterminate period of formal probation.

In addition to any fine or term of incarceration imposed, the sentencing court will order the defendant to pay restitution. Restitution is different than a fine. A fine is paid to the court. It is imposed as a punishment. Oftentimes, a fine can be converted to community service. Restitution, on the other hand, is paid to the victim to compensate him for his out-of-pocket expenses incurred to repair or replace the damaged or destroyed property.

Because the value of the property is so important in determining the seriousness of the offense, you may be wondering how the value of the property is established. Initially, if you are charged with malicious destruction of private property, the Clark County District Attorney will likely charge you based on whatever the alleged victim says they paid to replace or repair the damaged property. However, if your case goes to trial, in order to determine whether the charged offense should be a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony, as outlined above, the prosecutor has the burden of proving the "fair market value" of property totally destroyed or the reasonable repair price of property only partially damaged.

Specifically, the Nevada Supreme Court held in a case called Romero v. State that in cases where property is completely destroyed, the prosecutor must establish the fair market value of the property by putting on evidence establishing beyond a reasonable doubt the amount of money the victim would have to spend to replace the destroyed property with property that is in similar condition (i.e. has comparable wear and tear as the destroyed item). Establishing the value of a new, unused item is generally not acceptable, unless it is impossible to establish the value of a similarly used item. If the property in question is merely damaged, and not totally destroyed, the value of loss for determining the proper criminal charge is the price the victim reasonably paid to repair or restore the item.

DEFENDING MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION CHARGES

If you have been charged with malicious destruction of private property, you should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In many instances, these types of cases can be negotiated to avoid jail time and substantial fines. Although certain outcomes are not possible in all cases, many times a malicious destruction of private property charge can be negotiated for restitution and a fine or community service. In some instances, it may be possible to keep a conviction off your criminal record.

If it is not possible to negotiate your case for a favorable outcome, keep in mind it is the prosecutor's burden to prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Satisfying this burden would include proving that you were actually the person who destroyed the property, that the property was not in fact yours, that the property was destroyed willfully or maliciously rather than just negligently, and establishing beyond a reasonable doubt the purported value of the property allegedly destroyed.

I have helped many people charged with malicious destruction of private property in Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, Nevada. If you have been charged with this crime, call me for a free consultation so we can discuss the facts of your case. We will discuss possible defenses to the charges against you, and I will give you my opinion on what the possible outcome of your case might be.

By Michael Pandullo

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