New York Graffiti Charges – What You Need to Know
Graffiti. You’ve probably seen it all over New York – on buildings, trains, bridges. It’s everywhere. And it’s illegal.
Making graffiti is actually a crime in New York. There are laws that specifically make it illegal to paint, draw, sticker, or mark property without permission from the owner. Even possessing tools that could be used for graffiti (“graffiti instruments”) is against the law.
I know, I know. It seems crazy that something as common as graffiti is actually a crime. But it is. And people do get arrested and prosecuted for it.
In this article, I want to break down the laws about graffiti in New York so you understand what’s illegal and what the consequences are. My goal isn’t to scare you, just educate you. Knowledge is power, ya know?
What is Graffiti Under New York Law?
First, let’s define what graffiti is according to New York law.
“Graffiti means any etching, painting, covering, drawing upon or otherwise placing of a mark upon public or private property with intent to damage such property.”
So basically, any sort of marking or painting on someone else’s property without their permission can be considered graffiti under the law. Even if you don’t think you’re “damaging” the property, the legal definition is super broad.
Some examples of illegal graffiti:
- Spray painting a design on the side of a building
- Stickering a lamppost or mailbox
- Etching your name into a park bench
- Drawing on a bathroom wall
You get the idea. Pretty much anything that leaves a mark on property you don’t own.
Making Graffiti is a Crime (PL 145.60)
Okay, now that we know what graffiti is legally, let’s talk about the actual crime of making graffiti.
This is known as “Making Graffiti” and is found in New York Penal Law 145.60.
It’s a Class A misdemeanor, which is a criminal offense.
The law says:
No person shall make graffiti of any type on any building, public or private, or any other property real or personal owned by any person, firm or corporation or any public agency or instrumentality, without the express permission of the owner or operator of said property.
Breaking it down, to be guilty of making graffiti, the prosecutor has to prove:
- You made some type of graffiti
- You put the graffiti on someone else’s property without their permission
Both of those elements need to be present.
Some examples of making graffiti:
- James spray paints a message on the wall of an office building downtown. He doesn’t have permission from the owner. This is making graffiti.
- Amanda uses a marker to draw hearts and write messages on a park bench. The park did not give her permission to do this. She can be charged with making graffiti.
- Luis etches his name into the wooden railing on someone’s front porch. He doesn’t have permission. That’s making graffiti.
Hopefully these examples make it clear – any sort of marking or painting on someone else’s property without their ok can get you charged with this crime.
What About Graffiti Instruments? (PL 145.65)
New York also has a law making it illegal to possess tools that are commonly used for graffiti – things like spray paint, markers, etching tools. This is known as “Possession of Graffiti Instruments.”
Penal Law 145.65 says:
“A person is guilty of possession of graffiti instruments when he possesses any tool, instrument, article, substance, solution or other compound designed or commonly used to etch, paint, cover, draw upon or otherwise place a mark upon a piece of property which that person has no permission or authority to etch, paint, cover, draw upon or otherwise mark, under circumstances evincing an intent to use same in order to damage such property.”
So basically, if you have tools used for graffiti and the circumstances show you intend to use them illegally, you can be charged with this crime even if you haven’t actually made any graffiti yet.
- Carlos is walking down the street with a backpack full of spray paint cans near a train yard. He can be charged with possessing graffiti instruments since it appears he intends to use them illegally.
- Samantha is caught by police with etching tools outside a government building. She can be charged even though she hasn’t actually etched anything yet.
- Paul is found with markers matching recently made graffiti. He can be charged with possessing instruments for graffiti.
Possession of graffiti instruments is a Class B misdemeanor.
What Are the Penalties?
Okay, you’re probably wondering – what happens if I actually get charged and convicted of one of these graffiti crimes? What are the penalties?
Here’s a quick rundown:
Making Graffiti (PL 145.60)
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to 3 years probation
- Fine up to $1000
Possession of Graffiti Instruments (PL 145.65)
- Up to 90 days in jail
- Up to 3 years probation
- Fine up to $500
So yeah, we’re talking real jail time here, not just a slap on the wrist. Plus probation and fines.
Judges tend to take these crimes seriously, especially repeat offenses. The whole “broken windows” theory of policing means coming down hard on small crimes like graffiti to prevent more serious crimes down the road.
That said, first-time offenders often get off with just probation or community service. But it’s still a criminal record if convicted.
Defenses to Graffiti Charges
If you do get charged with making graffiti or possessing instruments, there are some defenses that a good lawyer can use to fight the charges:
- You had permission: If you can show you had permission from the owner to place the graffiti or art, that’s a complete defense. However, the permission needs to be express and proven.
- Lack of intent: For possessing instruments, you can argue you had no intent to use them illegally. Maybe you’re an artist carrying spray paint legally. This negates the intent element.
- Graffiti as art: You can claim the graffiti was artistic expression, not criminal damage. This is a tough argument but has worked in some cases.
- Mistaken identity: Argue the police arrested the wrong person and it wasn’t actually you. If you have an alibi, use it.
- Illegal search: If the police searched you illegally and found instruments, the evidence can be suppressed. This causes the case to collapse.
So don’t think just because you’ve been charged that you’re doomed. A good graffiti crimes lawyer can challenge the charges and win your case!
How Seriously Does NY Take Graffiti?
You’re probably wondering how likely you are to actually get caught and charged with one of these graffiti offenses.
The answer: pretty likely.
New York takes graffiti seriously. Like, really seriously. There’s even a special NYPD task force called the Vandals Task Force that focuses specifically on graffiti crimes.
We’re talking undercover investigations, stakeouts, video surveillance – the works. They actively track down and arrest graffiti artists throughout New York.
And it’s not just the NYPD. Prosecutors aggressively go after graffiti cases too. Many District Attorney’s offices have dedicated graffiti prosecution units.
So between the cops and DAs, you can bet graffiti crimes are being enforced and prosecuted. This isn’t a victimless crime in their eyes. Expect a knock on your door if you get caught.
Graffiti Laws Are Controversial
Not everyone agrees with New York’s super strict graffiti laws. There’s a lot of debate and differing views.
On one hand, officials say graffiti leads to urban decay and more serious crimes. They believe coming down hard on small crimes like graffiti helps prevent worse stuff down the road.
But critics argue graffiti writing is an art form. A way for underprivileged youth to express themselves. They say graffiti helps beautify bleak urban environments and shouldn’t be criminalized.
No easy answer here. As with most things in life, it’s complicated.
But regardless of where you stand, it’s good to know what you’re risking by making graffiti in New York. Know the laws so you can make informed choices.
The bottom line is graffiti is illegal in New York. Marking up someone else’s property without permission can get you charged with a misdemeanor. Fines, probation, even jail is possible if convicted.
Possessing graffiti tools can also lead to criminal charges.
Cops actively look for graffiti crimes and prosecutors take them seriously. It’s not just a slap on the wrist.
If you do get charged, fight back with an experienced graffiti lawyer. Challenge improper searches, lack of proof, or use other defenses to beat the charges.
Don’t take these laws lightly. But also don’t panic if charged. Fight smart and know your options.
Stay informed, stay safe out there. We got this.