New York Penal Law 145.23 Cemetery Desecration First Degree – What You Need to Know
Cemetery desecration laws in New York aim to protect burial sites and graves from damage and theft. But what exactly constitutes cemetery desecration under the law? And what are the penalties if you are convicted? This article provides an overview of New York Penal Law 145.23 on cemetery desecration in the first degree so you can understand what’s illegal and the potential consequences.
What is Cemetery Desecration in New York?
New York law defines cemetery desecration as intentionally damaging graves, headstones, memorials, or stealing personal property from a cemetery. This includes things like:
- Toppling over headstones
- Spray painting or marking headstones with graffiti
- Damaging flowers, vases or other items left at a grave
- Digging up graves fully or partially
- Stealing headstones, vases, flowers or other personal property from graves
There are two main degrees of cemetery desecration under New York law:
- Second Degree – Damaging property or stealing items worth $250 or less
- First Degree – Damaging property or stealing items worth more than $250
First degree is the more serious offense. This article focuses specifically on New York Penal Law 145.23 which covers cemetery desecration in the first degree.
New York Penal Law 145.23 – What Does it Cover?
Under Penal Law 145.23, a person can be charged with cemetery desecration in the first degree if they:
- Cause more than $250 in damage to property at a cemetery, grave, or burial place
- Steal personal property worth more than $250 from a cemetery, grave, or burial place
- Commit second degree cemetery desecration after a previous conviction for the same crime in the past 5 years
So the main things the law aims to punish is damaging gravesites and stealing valuables from cemeteries when the value exceeds $250. The dollar threshold is important – if the damage or value of stolen property is $250 or less, it would be charged as second degree instead.
Some examples of first degree cemetery desecration could include:
- Knocking over multiple headstones resulting in over $250 in damage
- Stealing vases, flowers, or other decorations worth over $250 from graves
- Intentionally smashing a large memorial statue worth more than $250
- Breaking into a mausoleum and stealing items worth over $250
- Committing second degree desecration again within 5 years of a prior conviction
What Are the Penalties for First Degree Cemetery Desecration in New York?
Cemetery desecration in the first degree is a class E felony under New York law. If convicted, the possible penalties can include:
- Up to 4 years in state prison
- Probation for up to 5 years
- Fines ordered by the court
- Restitution to compensate the victim(s) for property damage or theft
The judge has discretion in sentencing. A 4 year prison term is the maximum but is not mandatory. Many first time offenders may receive probation instead of prison. Fines and restitution may be ordered in addition to or instead of incarceration.
These potential penalties demonstrate why cemetery desecration should be taken seriously. The damages can be more than just financial – it can cause severe emotional distress to relatives of the deceased as well.
What Defenses Can Be Used Against Cemetery Desecration Charges?
If you are accused of cemetery desecration, there may be defenses that your criminal defense attorney can use to fight the charges:
- Lack of intent – If the damage was a pure accident, you may not have intended to desecrate the cemetery. This could apply if you tripped and fell into a headstone for example.
- Value dispute – If the prosecutor alleges the damage or stolen property exceeds $250, disputing the valuation could get the charge reduced to second degree. Evidence like repair receipts may be needed.
- Mistake of fact – Reasonably believing you had permission or the right to enter the cemetery could negate intent.
- False accusations – Another person may have committed the act and falsely accused you.
- Intoxication – Evidence of heavy intoxication could be used to undermine intent if you were too impaired to knowingly commit cemetery desecration.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can assess the evidence in your case and determine if any of these defenses may apply.
Recent Examples of Cemetery Desecration in New York
To understand how these laws are applied in real cases, here are some recent examples of cemetery desecration prosecutions in New York:
- In Buffalo, three teenagers were charged with knocking over more than 70 headstones at a local cemetery, causing over $60,000 in damage.
- A man in Albany was sentenced to 1-3 years in state prison after he was caught on camera knocking over headstones in a drunken rampage causing $27,000 in damage.
- In Suffolk county, a woman was convicted of second degree cemetery desecration and sentenced to probation plus home confinement for damaging headstones and memorials.
- Two teens were arrested in Queens for spray painting graffiti on headstones and mausoleums at a cemetery, causing thousands in damages.
These cases illustrate how seriously cemetery desecration is taken under New York law, with multiple offenders facing felony charges and prison sentences depending on the extent of damage.
Why Are These Laws in Place?
There are important policy reasons why New York and other states have enacted laws to punish cemetery vandalism and theft:
- Protecting burial sites shows respect for the dead and their surviving family members
- Graves contain sentimental property that has value to relatives of the deceased
- It prevents disturbing human remains which most find highly offensive
- Graveyards contain historic artifacts and memorials worth preserving
- Substantial costs are incurred to repair damages, which taxpayers may have to cover
By setting penalties such as prison time and fines, the laws aim to deter would-be vandals from defacing cemeteries and prevent repeat offenses. While some youths may see it as a prank, the emotional and financial impacts on others are very real.
What to Do If You Are Accused of Cemetery Desecration
If you have been arrested or charged with any degree of cemetery desecration in New York, it is critical to retain legal counsel immediately. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you on the best defense strategies and work to achieve the most favorable resolution in your case. This could mean getting charges reduced or dismissed, or minimizing penalties if convicted.