Can You Be Charged With Vandalism Without Proof in Minnesota?

You can be charged with vandalism even without proof in Minnesota. Circumstantial evidence sometimes is enough for the authority to press charges against you. The police, for instance, can charge you with vandalism if they can place you near the incident and you cannot reasonably explain what you were doing there. This is especially true if a history of hostility exists between you and the complainant. 

A conviction of vandalism charges in Minnesota can result in hefty fines, imprisonment, probation, community services, and monetary compensation to the complainant. A record of vandalism conviction can cause long-term consequences. The repercussions you face include severe punishments for subsequent crimes, difficulty securing gainful employment, and loss of firearm privileges. As such, it pays to involve a felony defense lawyer when facing vandalism charges. The lawyer can assemble sufficient evidence and develop an effective defense strategy to fight those charges. 

What Is Vandalism?

Vandalism is a deliberate act of damaging, destroying or defacing private or public property. Vandalism can be something as minor as carving your initials into a desk at a public library or park. It can also be something as major as breaking the windows of someone else’s property. Vandalism may also cover keying a vehicle or puncturing its tires, spray-painting your name on another person’s property, and smashing grave markers. 

Vandalism has several unique elements. The prosecution must demonstrate these elements beyond a reasonable doubt to get a successful vandalism conviction. These elements include: 


An act must be deliberate for it to be deemed vandalism. Accidentally damaging another person’s property is not a crime. A civil court may, however, order you to compensate the owner for the financial losses caused by that damage. 


The deliberate act must cause some damage to the property for it to be considered vandalism. Graffiti, inscription, and etching amount to property damage, even if they do not alter the proper functioning of the property. The reason is that these acts deface the property, lowering its market value. 


The damaged property must belong to another person. The damage must happen without the consent of the owner. Placing posters on a property with the owner’s consent cannot amount to vandalism.  

Degrees of Vandalism in Minnesota

illustration of the word vandalism

Minnesota law defines vandalism as criminal damage to property. It categorizes vandalism into three degrees, depending on the seriousness of the alleged damaging conduct. Serious vandalism incidents attract harsher penalties than less serious ones. Damage that interferes with a property’s structural integrity carries a harsher sentence than simple graffiti. 

First-Degree Criminal Damages to Property

This category covers the most serious vandal conduct in Minnesota. You may face a first-degree vandalism charge if you deliberately damage or destroy someone else’s property. This charge is common if any or all of the circumstances listed below exist: 

  • The damage poses a reasonable risk of bodily injury 
  • The damaged property is a public safety vehicle, and there was a significant disruption of public safety service due to the damage.
  • The value of the damage is more than $1,000.
  • The value of the damage is more than $500. 
  • You have a previous conviction of this offense in the past three years 

Minnesota’s statutes consider vandalism in the first degree a felony. Penalties for this offense include up to five-year imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Monetary penalties to compensate the complainant for the damages may also apply. 

Second-Degree Criminal Damages to Property 

This category includes slightly less serious forms of vandalism. A vandalism charge in the second degree applies when you willfully damage someone else’s property due to his or her color, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or physical or mental impairment.

The damage must involve a public safety vehicle. The value of the damage must be greater than $500 but less than $1,000. Second-degree vandalism is an example of when a crime becomes a hate crime. The punishment for this offense includes up to $3,000 in fines and up to one-year imprisonment. 

Third-Degree Criminal Damage to Property 

The prosecution may charge you with third-degree vandalism if you damage another person’s property without that person’s permission. The damage value must be higher than $500 but less than $1,000. A conviction for this offense may attract up to one year of jail time and up to $3,000 in fines. 

Evidence in Vandalism Cases

Police Report 

A police report is an essential piece of evidence in vandalism cases. The report describes the vandalism incident, the type of property damage, and the extent of the damage. It also includes details of the complainant and the alleged offender. 

Photographic Evidence 

Photos of the alleged offender engaging in criminal damage to property are another crucial piece of evidence. The property owner, neighbors, or bystanders can take these photos. Photographic evidence includes detailed pictures of the damage, including dents, paintings, and markings. 

Surveillance Footage 

Surveillance cameras on the damaged property or nearby buildings can capture the offender in the act. The prosecution can review such footage to identify the offender and bring vandalism charges against that offender. 

Witness Statements 

The prosecution can use signed and dated written statements from witnesses as evidence in a vandalism case. Witnesses can be neighbors, passersby, and bystanders who saw the defendant engaging in suspicious activity on or near the damaged property. 

Threatening Statements from the Alleged Offender 

Threatening emails or text messages from the alleged offender may help show that the offender had a motive for damaging the property in question. 

Written Estimates of the Value of the Damage 

These estimates show the amount of money the complainant might incur to repair the damaged property. They are common forms of evidence in civil vandalism cases. 

Expert Testimony 

Expert testimony may be necessary to prove the property’s market value. The testimony may also determine how much the damage has reduced the property’s actual market value.

Proof of Ownership 

The prosecution must present evidence that the damaged property belongs to the complainant. Otherwise, a vandalism charge will not apply. A deed is the most basic proof of building ownership. A title is proof of motor vehicle ownership, including cars, trailers, trucks, and recreational vehicles (RVs). 

Can You Be Charged with Vandalism Without Proof in Minnesota?

Physical evidence does not need to exist for you to face vandalism charges in Minnesota. The complainant just needs to file a police report and name you as a suspect. The police will then investigate the incident to determine if sufficient evidence is available to charge you. 

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be caught in the act to be charged with vandalism. You may face vandalism charges if witnesses, photographic evidence, and surveillance footage identify you as the perpetrator. 

Arson Laws and Penalties in Minnesota 

Arson charges might carry a long jail time and hefty fines, depending on the individual circumstances of the offense. The prosecution considers your motive, the kind of property burned, and the tools used to commit the offense to determine the charges to bring against you. Those factors are also crucial in determining the potential penalties you are likely to face.

A criminal defense attorney can review your case to determine the potential penalties for your charges. The attorney can then develop an effective defense strategy to avoid a conviction or reduce the sentence. 

When to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

Hire a criminal defense attorney right after discovering you are facing a criminal charge, such as vandalism. Involving an attorney early in the process may help you avoid harsher penalties associated with a conviction for criminal damages to property in Minnesota. 

Time is of the essence when you are facing a vandalism charge. The more you delay involving an attorney, the more time you give the prosecution to build a strong case against you. Get your lawyer involved immediately after getting arrested. That way, your legal representative can initiate a negotiation with the prosecution to get your charges reduced or even dropped. 

A criminal defense attorney can advise on what to do and what not to do when facing vandalism charges. The lawyer often serves as a mediator between you and the complainant. Contacting the complainant on your own may further worsen your case. 

Your defense attorney will focus on protecting your best interests. The attorney will investigate the alleged vandalism incident and explain the legal options available to you. The attorney will also help you choose the best legal option. 

Police officers or investigators may trick you into disclosing self-implicating information during your questioning. Your defense attorney should be present during your questioning to protect your legal rights.

A criminal defense lawyer familiar with Minnesota criminal law can establish whether the arresting officers infringed your constitutional rights. Arresting officers sometimes knowingly or unknowingly step beyond their legal mandate. They may, for example, have searched your home or arrested you without a valid warrant or justifiable reason. Your lawyer can point out this fact to get certain forms of evidence in your criminal case rendered inadmissible in court. 

You must compile enough evidence to defend yourself against your vandalism charges. A resourceful criminal defense attorney knows which evidence to collect and how to organize it for trial. Your attorney will, for instance, assemble physical evidence, obtain witness statements, and compile other helpful forms of evidence. 

Having an aggressive defense attorney on your side gives you much-needed peace of mind. You can easily cope with the serious psychological effects of facing a criminal charge when you know someone competent is defending you. 

Your defense attorney may sometimes try to resolve your case before trial. They can do that by negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution on your behalf. The attorney will first consult you before initiating plea deal talks. 

Plea deals are essential when the prosecution has a strong case against you. They help minimize the time and cost of trials. They often result in a reduction of charges or potential sentencing. A plea deal may also originate from the prosecution. Your defense attorney will then engage the prosecution to work out a favorable deal for you. The attorney can choose to defend you at trial if negotiations fail to produce a reasonable plea deal. 

It is never too late to involve a criminal defense attorney. Getting sentenced does not mark the end of your case. A defense attorney can review your case and available evidence to identify viable grounds for appealing your sentence. The attorney can then help you work through the appeals process. This process involves filing an appeal and presenting evidence-backed arguments to have your sentence reduced or overturned, and punishment reversed. 

How to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney in Minnesota

Hiring a criminal defense attorney early in the process is a wise decision. However, you must ensure you are working with someone who can better protect your rights and represent your best interest. 

Set an initial consultation with a prospective defense attorney before making a hiring decision. Determine if the attorney is knowledgeable about your state’s criminal justice system. Ask about how long the attorney has been handling cases such as yours. Find out his or her success rate. 

Ensure your defense lawyer is not afraid of going to trial. Work with an attorney with an impressive record of winning at trial, even if your case might resolve before trial. That way, you will be assured of a favorable outcome if the prosecution fails to offer a fair plea deal. Be sure to ask your would-be attorney questions such as can you be charged with vandalism without proof in Minnesota and how many criminal cases he or she has won at trial. 

Find out who will be working on your case if your prospective defense attorney is from a large firm. Sometimes, a legal representative will assign your case to another lawyer. Alternatively, different staff members may handle cases at different stages. Find out who will be your contact person to avoid confusion and disappointment down the road.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
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