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Off-Roading Jeep Damages Walking Trail and Highlights the Breadth and Subjectivity of Vandalism Law

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | May 01, 2019 | 0 Comments

Staff members at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia have claimed that someone driving a Jeep off-road on the Center's walking paths has done extensive damage.

The incident draws out the breadth of Pennsylvania's laws against vandalism.

Off-Roading Jeep Damages Philadelphia Walking Trail

The staff members at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education have said that the Jeep went off-roading on their walking trails twice – once on March 29, and again on April 7.

The second time, the Jeep was left behind on the trails after it got stuck in the mud, but disappeared the next day.

Both times, though, the Jeep traversed tight and rugged walking trails that were already softened by rain, warming temperatures, and melting snow. Staff members found several dead toads and a dead box turtle, as well as trails that are severely damaged.

Signs at the entrances to the Center's walking trails forbid both motor vehicles and bikes. One of the signs was knocked over by the Jeep.

Pennsylvania's Vandalism Law Goes Beyond Graffiti

Much of Pennsylvania's vandalism and criminal mischief law, codified at Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3304, deals obsessively with graffiti. It goes into great detail to differentiate the use of “aerosol spray-paint cans” and “broad-tipped indelible markers,” and even prohibits using a paintball gun to deface property.

However, for all of the specifics that the statute goes into, one subsection of the law stands out for its shocking breadth: § 3304(a)(5) prohibits conduct that “intentionally damages real or personal property of another.”

Because this part of the criminal mischief and vandalism statute is so broad, police love to use it as the basis of making an arrest for conduct that they do not really know what to do with – like off-roading a Jeep on walking trails.

The Problem of Grading Offenses Based on Value of Property

Pennsylvania's vandalism law has one big downfall, though: The penalties that it metes out depend on the value of the property that was implicated. Generally, if the “pecuniary loss” rises to certain levels, then the consequences go up, as well:

“Pecuniary Loss”

Type of Offense

Fines

Jail Sentence

$499 or less

Summary offense

Up to $300

Up to 90 days

$500 - $999

Third-degree misdemeanor

Up to $2,500

Up to one year

$1,000 - $4,999

Second-degree misdemeanor

Up to $5,000

Up to two years

$5,000 or more

Third-degree felony

Up to $15,000

Up to seven years

Of course, this rigid structure falls apart once questions arise over how to value the property, like in this case. How would the law value the sanctity and pristine nature of walking trails? It would be completely subjective.

Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 if you have been arrested and accused of vandalism, criminal mischief, or any other crime in the region and want to defend your rights and future.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience fighting for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, as well as New Jersey. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being.

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