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The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Malicious or Wanton Destruction of Property

Malicious destruction of property is a serious crime that carries the possibility of a state prison sentence upon conviction.

Elements of Malicious Destruction of Property

In order to convict a defendant of malicious destruction of property, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant destroyed or damaged the personal property, building, or dwelling house of another person;
  2. The defendant did so willfully; and
  3. The defendant acted with malice.

The potential penalties for malicious destruction of property depend upon the value of the allegedly damaged or destroyed property.

Willful conduct is done intentionally and by design. An act is done with malice if done out of hostility, cruelty, or revenge. The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted deliberately and out of hostility toward the owner of the property.

There is a separate crime of wanton destruction of property. The destruction is “wanton” if the defendant acted recklessly or indifferently to the fact that his or her conduct would probably result in substantial damage to the victim’s property.  Wanton destruction of property is not as serious a crime as malicious destruction of property, because a wanton act is not performed with intent and hostility.

A dwelling house is any place where people live. Apartment complexes, single family homes, dorm rooms, hotel rooms, and rooming houses all qualify as dwelling houses.

Common Defenses and Defense Strategies

Malicious destruction of property cases can be defended in a variety of ways.

  • Accident – The most common and successful defense to malicious destruction of property is accident. The Commonwealth is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally destroyed or damaged the property. An “accident” is an event that happened unexpectedly, without the defendant planning it.  In some cases, there are no eyewitnesses to the alleged crime, which makes it difficult for the prosecutor to prove that the damage was caused intentionally rather than accidentally.   
  • Bias – Because the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant acted with malice in damaging the alleged victim’s property, bias (or motive for the alleged victim to lie) will always be an issue that is explored at trial. Whether the defendant allegedly damaged the property of an estranged family member, a former employer, or even a stranger (in a road rage incident, for example), Attorney Spring will cross-examine the alleged victim on the issue of bias and may make it a central theme of the defense.

Although malicious or wanton destruction of property does not result in physical injury to the alleged victim, prosecutors and judges take this crime seriously.  If you are convicted of maliciously or wantonly destroying someone else's property, there is a real possibility that you will be sentenced to jail.  It is imperative that you consult with a criminal defense attorney to give yourself the best chance of winning the case.  Attorney Chris Spring will visit you at your home to review the facts of your case and provide you with a defense plan.  Call Attorney Spring today to schedule an appointment.

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