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What Are The Penalties For Malicious Destruction Of Landscaping In A Motor Vehicle ("Turfing") In Michigan?

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Whether done as a prank, out of spite, revenge or just total disregard of others, the act of driving a motor vehicle through someone's lawn ("turfing") can be incredibly destructive. Trees and flowers that have spent months, if not years, growing into their present beauty might be totally destroyed. Grass and turf can be damaged over a large expanse and can cost significant time and money to replace. Even though the plants that were harmed may be an extension of nature, make no mistake that the owners of the property are entitled to relief under Michigan's civil and criminal laws. A person who is found guilty of malicious destruction of landscaping due to turfing can face a criminal conviction that leads to fines, court costs, substantial restitution, possible incarceration and even driver's license sanctions.

An individual is guilty of malicious destruction of any tree, shrub, grass, turf, plants, crops or soil ("landscaping"), contrary to MCL 750.382(1), if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 32.2):

  • First, that the property was standing, growing or located on the land of another.
  • 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 landscaping are as follows:

  • If the amount of the destruction or injury was less than $200.00, then the individual is guilty of a misdemeanor conviction punishable by (MCL 750.382(1)(a)):
  1. 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
  2. Operator's license suspended for 30 days with no hardship appeal if a motor vehicle was used.
  3. No points added to Michigan driving record.
  • If the amount of the destruction or injury is $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00; OR 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, then the individual is guilty of a misdemeanor conviction punishable by (MCL 750.382(1)(b)):
  1. 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
  2. Operator's license suspended for 30 days with no hardship appeal if a motor vehicle was used.
  3. No points added to Michigan driving record.
  • If the amount of the destruction or injury is $1,000.00 or more but less than $20,000.00; OR 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, then the individual is guilty of a felony conviction punishable by (MCL 750.382(1)(c)):
  1. 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
  2. Operator's license is suspended for one year with no hardship appeal (license revoked if this is a second or subsequent felony conviction involving the use of a motor vehicle to commit the crime).
  3. Six points added to Michigan driving record.
  • If the amount of the destruction or injury is $20,000.00 or more; or 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, then the individual is guilty of a felony conviction punishable by:
  1. 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
  2. Operator's license is suspended for one year with no hardship appeal (license revoked if this is a second or subsequent felony conviction involving the use of a motor vehicle to commit the crime).
  3. Six points added to Michigan driving record.

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. "The values of trees, shrubs, grass, turf, plants, crops, or soil cut down, destroyed, or injured in separate incidents pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct within any 12-month period may be aggregated to determine the total value of trees, shrubs, grass, turf, plants, crops, or soil cut down, destroyed, or injured." MCL 750.382(3). However, a criminal proceeding for malicious destruction of landscaping 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 determination of the value of the 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. The fair market value to repair or replace will control even if there is evidence that it actually cost the victim less than that value to repair or replace the property. People v Hamblin, 224 Mich App 87; 568 NW2d 339 (1997).

Malicious destruction of 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 an individual drives through someone's lawn because he or she lost control of the vehicle due to a roadway hazard and causes damage, he or she should not be convicted because there was no intent to damage or destroy. The same logic applies even if the individual was voluntarily intoxicated while operating the vehicle. The lack of motive or intent to destroy any landscaping may create insufficient evidence for someone to be guilty of malicious destruction of property, but there is nothing that would bar a prosecution for operating under the influence, reckless driving or even careless driving.

Whether or not an individual appears to have intended to cause property destruction in the eyes of a jury depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. In People v Edmunds, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued June 24th, 2003 (Docket No. 237497), the defendant was acquitted of felonious assault but convicted of malicious destruction of landscaping less than $200.00 when he drove his pick-up truck across a homeowner's grass and flower beds causing destruction. The defendant, after drinking several alcoholic beverages, got into a verbal altercation with the homeowner and got into his vehicle to leave. Several eyewitnesses testified that he spun out and drove at a fast rate around the house and over the lawn driveway and flower beds two or three times. The defendant testified that he was acting in self-defense and was at physical risk of harm from the altercation, so the property destruction was inadvertently caused by his efforts to locate and rescue his girlfriend on the premises and then escape. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the jury's verdict, finding that the defendant's actions of repeatedly circling around the same areas in the vehicle would lead a reasonable person to believe that the probable result would be damage to the landscape.

However, no two cases are the same and an experienced attorney can help exploit the flaws in the prosecutor's case.  A criminal defense lawyer can also negotiate a resolution to a lesser charge if the evidence against you is strong. It may be possible to convince the prosecutor to offer a reduced offense that does not carry any license sanctions. 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 foolish or impulsive decision.

If you or a loved one is charged with turfing or any other traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the legal professionals at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC to start getting peace of mind today.

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