Graffiti comes in different shapes and forms. It could be as elaborate as a large mural or as simple as scribbling on a small surface.
But graffiti is also illegal in Arizona. Per state rules, recklessly drawing or inscribing a message on a structure (whether it’s a private or public location) without permission from the owner is considered a criminal damage offense.
Although criminal damage is a severe enough offense, anyone caught drawing graffiti under certain circumstances can instead face a charge of aggravated criminal damage. When is this charge handed out?
Defacing certain structures leads to aggravated criminal damage
According to Arizona law, a person commits aggravated criminal damage if they deface or damage in any way the following structures without the permission of the owners:
- Places of worship
- Educational facilities or schools
- Cemeteries, mortuaries and other facilities used for burial or funeral services
- Utility and agricultural infrastructure; construction sites
If a person defaces any of the first three types of structures, they face an aggravated criminal damage charge, a Class 6 felony. However, if they scrawl graffiti on a utility, agricultural or construction site, their offense becomes a Class 5 felony.
Increasing penalties for larger-scale defacement
Persons who deface the first three types of structures while causing $1,500 worth of damage or more, but less than $10,000, will see their aggravated criminal damage offense upgraded to a Class 5 felony. Meanwhile, those who deface a utility, agricultural or construction site while causing 1,500 worth of damage or more, but less than $10,000, get a Class 4 felony.
If the damage caused hits $10,000 or more, the criminal sentencing further increases in grade. For those who defaced the first three types of structures, the offense is a Class 4 felony. It’s a Class 3 felony to deface infrastructure used for utilities, agriculture or construction.
The penalties on conviction depend on the felony class of the offense:
- Class 6: Up to two years of prison time and $150,000 in fines
- Class 5: Up to 2.5 years of prison time and $150,000 in fines
- Class 4: Up to 3.75 years of prison time and $150,000 in fines
- Class 3: Up to 8.75 of prison time and $150,000 in fines
To recap, graffiti can become an aggravated criminal offense if the violator defaces a critical structure used for religion, education, utilities or agriculture. It’s also an aggravated offense to scrawl on a construction site or on a cemetery (or similar other structure). Graffiti may be a relatively harmless offense compared to more violent crimes, but it can still lead to years of prison on conviction.