Graffiti, Graveyards, & You:
Ghastly Punishment For Ghostland Vandalism

Graffiti, Graveyards, & You:
Ghastly Punishment For Ghostland Vandalism

Vandalism is bad enough, but the when-and-where of it can play a significant role

in setting the terms of any kind of plea deal an ‘unauthorized artist’ might be able to get

Almost everywhere you look in a city or town, you can find graffiti. From bathroom stalls to the sides of buildings, it seems as though people are obsessed with “making their mark on the world”. Altering someone’s property without their permission is called vandalism, and while it may seem harmless, it’s still hurting someone and their property. Vandalism comes in many different forms, from spray-paint graffiti, to tearing down Confederate general statues, to even just putting stickers on something that isn’t yours. It’s important to understand the difference between art and vandalism, as some of the things that could be seen as vandalism can not only be harmless, but welcomed by the community, with vandalism from famous artists actually increasing the value of a building (if you’ve heard of the mysterious Banksy, they are a good example).  Because of that, graffiti and vandalism can sometimes be overlooked when thinking about criminal charges. However, vandalism can be a far more serious crime than you’d think, and what is considered vandalism could still be surprising!

Nevada law defines Vandalism as the meaningful destruction of someone else’s property, and it comes with serious consequences depending on the cost to fix the damage:

Graffiti may be common in the community and seem everywhere, but that doesn’t mean the incidents are uninvestigated and unenforced by the legal system.  In 2021 for example, Silver Lake Elementary in Washoe County experienced multiple acts of vandalism over the course of a few weeks, with spray-painted curse words on walls and windows, as well as property destruction to mobile classroom units. Not only has this caused a lot of pain and suffering for the school district, with repair damages costing upwards of $25,000, but it’s hurt many of the students that attend the school and are forced to see it destroyed.

Since the damage to the school is well over the minimum for a felony charge, the criminals could be facing serious fines and jail time. Anyone involved could be held liable for it, as well as any additional punishments brought by the school district for pain and suffering in civil court, which is separate from the criminal charges of vandalism.

While the criminals haven’t been caught as of the date this article is being written, they should be expecting a visit from an officer soon. Many communities – including cities and towns throughout Nevada – have vandalism investigation units. These units include detectives who track local graffiti and compare it to online and offline art that’s been created by local community members. Some criminals will get exposed when their graffiti is tied to art they post on social media. Others will get caught in the act creating one piece, only to face charges for the many other pieces they created around town when their style is shown to connect each incident of vandalism.

Even simple pranks can lead to serious consequences. Seniors at Truckee High School spread flour and condiments all over the halls and lockers of their school as a senior prank, an overplayed tradition near the last day of school in which the seniors pull some sort of practical joke on teachers and lower classmen. Their “joke” led to thousands of dollars in damages on the school and wasn’t unnoticed by law enforcement. Thankfully, the Truckee students were offered community service and an agreement for all of them to collectively paying for the damages rather than jail time, since they cooperated with the authorities. Just to be clear though, in this specific case, the students were extremely lucky to avoid any serious punishments.

Vandalism isn’t just limited to spray-paint and condiments, though. Destruction to things that it seems as though nobody really owns is still considered against the law, even though there isn’t really a victim.* In October of 2013, a pair of Boy Scout leaders pushed over a rock formation in a park in Utah that had been standing for millions of years. While there was no direct damage to anyone or their property, it was still considered serious vandalism, as the structure stood on government land, and the state of Utah quickly brought consequences on the men for harming state property.

*Just to be clear state and federal parks do actually have owners:
citizens own the parks but that doesn’t mean they can do anything to them,
since governments manage the parks on behalf of all of the citizens who own them.

The two Scout leaders managed to get extremely lucky, and were allowed to plead guilty to criminal mischief rather than the more serious charges they could have been facing, like felony vandalism. They ended up receiving extensive parole, but again – don’t think you’ll be so lucky! Depending on the judge they landed in front of, they could have been facing YEARS in prison, and thousands of dollars in fines.

A similar thing happened with spray-painted graffiti in Red Rock Canyon in April of 2022, which, as a nationally protected land, could mean being charged with destruction of government property. As a federal charge, that could mean up to $250,000 in fines! A hiker noticed blue spray paint over several different natural rock formations that people come from miles around to see, and quickly reported it to the police and the press. While no one was caught in the act, authorities are still looking into the matter, and those involved could still be facing serious consequences. Not only is destruction of natural beauty an offense in and of itself, but it could lead to a federal charge of up to six months in prison and a $500 fine for each offense

Even dead people have protections too! A case involving three teenagers destroying around 50 headstones in a cemetery led to the 17-year-olds being charged with property damage and trespassing, despite, again, no (living) person directly being hurt by the incident. In general, any meaningful destruction of property could have very serious consequences,

Although it may seem small and harmless, vandalism hurts people and their property, and can lead to a lot of pain and suffering on some. All forms of vandalism require someone to clean them up, and it makes a hard job that much more difficult. A felony, no matter the class, still appears as a felony on your criminal record, and it makes it much more difficult to do almost everything in society. Even if it isn’t to the level of a felony, it could still mean jailtime for you and a lot of money for anyone financially responsible for you, like your parents or guardians.

You’re encouraged to express your artistic side, just as long as you make sure you own whatever you paint.


  1. What differences would you expect for the punishment of two artists – one who spraypaints a random wall of some business in the city, and another who does the same thing to gravestones in a graveyard – assuming both acts cause the same amount of damage (in terms of dollar value). In other words, assuming both acts were the same amount of damage, what difference would the location of the damage have on the punishment (if any), and what reasons do you have for thinking that the punishments will or won’t be different?
  2. Assuming the punishments are different, explain why you think it is or is not fair for the crimes (one in the alley, the other in the graveyard) to have different punishments?
  3. Banksy has over 60 different art pieces around the world on public buildings. If it cost on average $130 to fix the “damage” from each piece, how much would the cost total? Would that be considered a felony in Nevada? How much jail time would Banksy be looking at?
  4. Why is defacing natural structures a crime? Do you think there should be a higher or lower penalty for destroying natural formations? Explain why.
  5. What are some other forms of vandalism that you can think of? Do those have the same or different charges as graffiti? If they’re charges are different, explain why (use the internet as a resource).

Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the articles this piece was sourced from here:

Contributed by: Ethan Champagne
Edited by: Mike Kamer


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