Malicious Destruction of Property

There are two categories of the malicious destruction of property offense in Maryland.   Malicious destruction of property having a value under $1,000 has a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail or a fine of up to $500, or both.  Malicious destruction of property of $1,000 or greater has a penalty of up to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.   Both are misdemeanors.  If prosecuted in the District Court, a defendant can also be placed on supervised probation for up to three years with conditions, including full payment or restitution.    Being placed on supervised probation can limit your ability to travel and move to other parts of the country.    

The elements of the crime require proof that the defendant “willfully and maliciously” destroyed, injured, or defaced the property of another person.  If the property is damaged by way of negligence or even recklessness, the defendant should be found not guilty.   For example, if a teenager is sledding down a hill right into someone’s back yard but slams into the glass patio door, shattering the door, the young man should not be charged with malicious destruction of property because the damage was not intentional or malicious.   On the other hand, “key-ing” an ex-boyfriend’s car would be a rather clear case of damage to property that was done with a malicious intent. 

Sometimes the question of “malicious” intent is not so clear.   For example, let’s say coworker Allen promises that he will drop off a brief case belonging to fellow employee Bill at Bill’s house on the way home from work.  But Allen forgets and goes to work the next day.  Bill needs his briefcase before he gets on a flight.   Bill makes one call to Allen but gets no answer.   Bill then goes to Allen’s car and breaks the passenger window to retrieve his briefcase.  Bill then sends a text to Allen: “Thanks for forgetting all about my briefcase, idiot.”   Some prosecutors would say that, not only is Bill responsible for fixing the car, he is also guilty of a crime because of his minimal effort to locate Allen and the text message indicates that Bill broke the window out of anger (malicious intent).  Bill’s attorney, of course, will argue that Bill only did what is necessary to retrieve his briefcase before getting on his flight and, therefore, had no criminal intent.   

Defending against such a charge depends on a very specific examination of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.   It is important that witnesses are on board for trial and the attorney collects evidence, photographs and video footage.  Sometimes we call in people with specialized experience to testify regarding the value of the damage to dispute the amount of damage being claimed by the alleged victim.   

Aside from the potential penalties of jail time and fines, “malicious destruction of property” often sounds a lot worse on someone’s record than the actual event.   It can often suggest that someone has anger management issues and would not be a good candidate for many types of employment.   The more serious version of malicious destruction of property ($1,000 or over) can also be a disqualifying crime that requires the defendant to forfeit his or her firearms.    That can be a big problem for recreational shooters, security guards, and military personnel.

As of 2018, malicious destruction of property is not on the list of minor offenses that can be expunged after a certain period of time if the defendant was convicted.    Therefore, it is important, if at all possible, to seek a “not guilty” or other disposition that will allow you to get the case the expunged from your record.  Even if the facts and witnesses are all against you, an experienced attorney may still be able to advocate effectively on your behalf and negotiate a favorable resolution.   Call one of our experienced attorneys for a consultation today.