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What Is Malicious Destruction Of Real And Personal Property In Michigan?

Whether it was intended as a prank, random vandalism or revenge, the destruction of another person's real or personal property is not tolerated under Michigan law. The severity of the penalty is directly related to the value of the property that was damaged or destroyed.

MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF PERSONAL PROPERTY

An individual is guilty of malicious destruction of personal property, contrary to MCL 750.377a, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 32.2):

  • First, that the property belonged to someone else.
  • Second, that the defendant destroyed or damaged that property.
  • Third, that the defendant did this knowing it was wrong, without just cause or excuse, and with the willful and malicious intent to damage or destroy the property.

The penalties for malicious destruction of personal property are as follows:

  • A misdemeanor conviction punishable with a fine up to $500.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 93 days in jail, or both, contrary to MCL 750.377a(1)(d), IF the amount of the destruction or injury was less than $200.00.
  • A misdemeanor conviction punishable with a fine up to $2,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 1 year in jail, or both, contrary to MCL 750.377a(1)(c), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of personal property under $200.00 AND the individual has a prior conviction for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of personal property under $200.00.
  • A felony conviction punishable with a fine up to $10,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 5 years in prison, or both, contrary to MCL 750.377a(1)(b), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $1,000.00 or more but less than $20,000.00; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of personal property between $200.00 and less than $1,000.00 AND has one or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of personal property between $200.00 and less than $1,000.00.
  • A felony conviction punishable with a fine up to $15,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 10 years in prison, or both, contrary to MCL 750.377a(1)(a), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $20,000.00 or more; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of personal property between $1,000.00 and less than $20,000.00 AND has two or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of personal property between $200.00 and less than $20,000.00.

The following additional considerations apply to proceeding involving malicious destruction of personal property:

  • A criminal proceeding for malicious destruction of personal property does not prohibit the victim from filing a lawsuit in civil court to obtain a judgment for damages related to the property that was damaged or destroyed.
  • "The amounts of destruction or injury in separate incidents pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct within any 12-month period may be aggregated in determining the total amount of the destruction or injury." MCL 750.377a(2).
  • The prosecutor is required to prove, and the judge is required to instruct the jury, that malicious destruction of personal property is a specific intent crime and the defendant must have the specific intent to injure or destroy the property. People v Culp, 108 Mich App 452, 458; 310 NW2d 421 (1981). If a defendant voluntarily becomes so intoxicated that he or she does have the requisite intent, he or she cannot be convicted of the crime. People v Crittle, 390 Mich 367, 374; 212 NW2d 196 (1973).
  • The prosecutor must show that there was physical damage to the personal property, not that the "functional utility" of the property was destroyed by the property going missing. People v Ewing, 127 Mich App 582, 585; 339 NW2d 228 (1983). Stolen property with no proof of damage or destruction is more properly charged under the larceny statutes.
  • The definition of personal property includes animals such as a dog. "A jury could properly infer willful and malicious intent to kill, even when the defendant discredits such intent, from evidence that he intentionally set into motion a force likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm - here kicking the dog." People v McKnight, 102 Mich App 581; 302 NW2d 241 (1980).
  • The statute relating to the malicious destruction of animals is distinct from the misdemeanor animal cruelty statute. "The former statue (malicious destruction of property) protects the property interests of a person in the ownership of an animal, whereas the latter statute protects the animal itself from cruelty." People v Iehl, 100 Mich App 277; 299 NW2d 46 (1980). The prosecutor has the discretion to charge the more serious offense.

MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF A BUILDING OR APPURTENANCE

An individual is guilty of malicious destruction of a building or appurtenance, contrary to MCL 750.380, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 32.3):

  • First, that the building or anything permanently attached to it belonged to someone else.
  • Second, that the defendant destroyed or damaged that building or anything permanently attached to it.
  • Third, that the defendant did this knowing it was wrong, without just cause or excuse, and with the willful and malicious intent to damage or destroy the property.

The penalties for malicious destruction of a building or appurtenance are as follows:

  • A misdemeanor conviction punishable with a fine up to $500.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 93 days in jail, or both, contrary to MCL 750.380(5), IF the amount of the destruction or injury was less than $200.00.
  • A misdemeanor conviction punishable with a fine up to $2,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 1 year in jail, or both, contrary to MCL 750.380(4), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of real property under $200.00 AND the individual has a prior conviction for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of real property under $200.00.
  • A felony conviction punishable with a fine up to $10,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 5 years in prison, or both, contrary to MCL 750.380(3), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $1,000.00 or more but less than $20,000.00; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of real property between $200.00 and less than $1,000.00 AND has one or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of real property between $200.00 and less than $1,000.00.
  • A felony conviction punishable with a fine up to $15,000.00 (or 3x the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater) and/or up to 10 years in prison, or both, contrary to MCL 750.380(2), IF EITHER:
  1. The amount of the destruction or injury is $20,000.00 or more; OR
  2. The individual commits the crime of malicious destruction of real property between $1,000.00 and less than $20,000.00 AND has two or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit malicious destruction of real property between $200.00 and less than $20,000.00.

The following additional considerations apply to proceeding involving malicious destruction of a building or appurtenance:

  • In addition to fines and costs, the judge will order the convicted defendant to pay restitution to the victim to replace the value of the property that was damaged or destroyed.
  • A criminal proceeding for malicious destruction of real property does not prohibit the victim from filing a lawsuit in civil court to obtain a judgment for damages related to the property that was damaged or destroyed.
  • "The amounts of destruction or injury in separate incidents pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct within any 12-month period may be aggregated in determining the total amount of the destruction or injury." MCL 750.380(6).
  • Whether or not property is considered personal property or real property depends on its relationship to the structure or the land. For example, an engine resting on a brick foundation, enclosed in a framed building, unable to be removed unless a wall was removed, and mortgaged as part of the realty is clearly considered to be real property. People v Jones, 120 Mich 283, 79 NW 177 (1899).
  • The prosecutor is required to prove, and the judge is required to instruct the jury, that malicious destruction of real property is a specific intent crime and the defendant must have the specific intent to injure or destroy the property. Malice can be inferred, however, from circumstantial evidence such at cut pipes, torn plaster ceiling and broken faucet fixtures. People v Burkhardt, 72 Mich 172; 40 NW 240 (1888).
  • The determination of the value of the real property that was damaged or destroyed (for the purpose of determining the severity of the malicious destruction of property charge) is based on the fair market value of repairing the damage or replacing the property destroyed, which can include the cost of labor. People v Labelle, 231 Mich App 37, 38; 585 NW2d 756 (1998).

MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF OTHER SPECIFIC PROPERTY

There are particular penalties prescribed by law when specific personal or real property is damaged or destroyed under Michigan law:

  • Personal Property of Fire or Police Department (MCL 750.377b) - Any person who shall willfully and maliciously destroy or injure the personal property of any fire or police department, including the Michigan state police, shall be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison. Malicious destruction of police property only applies to personal property, not real property. For example, the destruction of a window at a county jail (the window considered "real property" because it was erected or affixed to a building) is only properly chargeable under the malicious destruction of real property statute, even if the resulting penalty may be less. People v Fox, 232 Mich App 541; 591 NW2d 384 (1998).
  • School Bus (MCL 750.377c) - "If a person intentionally damages, destroys, or alters a school bus without the permission of the entity that owns that school bus and that damage, destruction, or alteration creates a health or safety hazard to any individual occupying that school bus or who may occupy that school bus, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both."
  • Traffic Control Device (MCL 750.377d) - "A person who willfully and maliciously damages, destroys, injures, defaces, dismantles, tampers with, or removes a traffic control device (sign, signal, electronic traffic control sign, light post or railroad sign) is guilty of a crime as follows:"
  1. First Offense: Misdemeanor conviction with a fine up to $500.00 or up to 93 days in jail.
  2. Second Offense: Misdemeanor conviction with a fine up to $1,000.00 or up to 180 days in jail.
  3. Third Offense: Misdemeanor conviction with a fine up to $10,000.00 or up to 1 year in jail.
  • Fences or Opening Gates (MCL 750.381) - "Any person who shall maliciously break down, injure, mar or deface any fence belonging to or enclosing lands not his own, or shall maliciously throw down or open any gate, bars or fence, and leave the same down or open, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor".
  • Shrubs, Grass, Turf, Plants, Crops or Soil (MCL 750.382) - "A person who willfully and maliciously, or wantonly and without cause, cuts down, destroys, or injures any tree, shrub, grass, turf, plants, crops, or soil of another that is standing, growing, or located on the land of another is guilty of a crime" in the same manner that malicious destruction of personal property is punished (depending on the fair market value of what was damaged or destroyed). Additionally, the operator's or chauffeur's license of a convicted person will be suspended if the damage or destruction was caused by a motor vehicle.
  • Memorial of the Dead (MCL 750.387) - "A person, other than the burial right owner or his or her representative, heir at law, or a person having care, custody, or control of a cemetery pursuant to law, a contract, or other legal right, shall not willfully destroy, mutilate, deface, injure, or remove a tomb, monument, gravestone, or other structure or thing placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or a fence, railing, curb, or other thing intended for the protection or for the ornament of any tomb, monument, gravestone, or other structure described in this subsection or any other enclosure for the burial of the dead and shall not willfully destroy, mutilate, remove, cut, break, or injure any tree, shrub, or plant, placed or being within such an enclosure." Offenders will be guilty of a crime in the same manner that malicious destruction of personal property is punished (depending on the fair market value of what was damaged or destroyed).

In addition to the examples above, there are statute specific to less commonly charged offenses such as the malicious destruction of dams, canals, reservoirs, trenches, bridges, boundary markers, logs and timber, signs and notices on private property and mining equipment. However, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge offenses under the general statute punishing malicious destruction of personal or real property if the more specific offense would be a lesser penalty.

DEFENSES TO MALICIOUS DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY

The prosecutor has the burden of proving that you committed malicious destruction of property beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a conviction cannot be sustained IF:

  • The property did not belong to someone else. You cannot be found guilty if you can show that the damaged or destroyed property was your own property.
  • The property was not damaged or destroyed due to willful or malicious intent. You cannot be found guilty if the prosecutor cannot show that the damage or destruction was NOT caused by mistake, accident or necessity (e.g. breaking down a door to save someone's life). Intoxication may also negate someone's specific intent to destroy property.
  • You did not destroy the property. You cannot be found guilty if the prosecutor cannot prove that the identity of the perpetrator or you have a successful alibi defense.

A skilled attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and formulate a plan for the best resolution of your case. While a good lawyer is always thinking in terms of how to win at trial, it is also possible to negotiate a resolution of a lesser charge if the facts are not favorable to you. Additionally, there may be diversionary options available to first time offenders (e.g. Holmes Youthful Trainee Act) that can prevent a conviction from appearing on your criminal record due to a one-time stupid decision. If you or a loved one is charged with malicious destruction of property or any other crime, do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC to begin your best defense today.

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