Skip to Content

Is Graffiti an Art or a Crime?


Get the Defense You Need for Navigating Complicated Legal Boundaries

For many people, graffiti is an art and a form of self-expression. Some popular street artists, like Banksy and Keith Haring, have made a name for themselves and are lauded in major cities throughout the world like Paris, New York City, and beyond. Generally speaking, though, graffiti is classified as vandalism in Texas and throughout the U.S. In fact, defacing any type of property with graffiti is a criminal offense in Texas that can lead to jail time and expensive fines.

You most often see graffiti in major cities, but it can actually be found in small towns and in many different areas. Even ancient cities have displayed evidence of graffiti in the form of worship symbols, but nowadays, the public opinion on graffiti is a bit less sacred and a bit more more polarizing. Some consider it a form of art, while others consider it a menace and a stain on their neighborhoods.

Some even compare graffiti to the broken window theory. The broken window theory was introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, who believed that even minor criminal acts create an environment within a community that leads to more serious crime. They believed that what begins as a broken window can evolve into more broken windows, a wall of graffiti, and an environment of disarray. It is the mindset of this theory that makes graffiti undesirable in certain communities, even if the perpetrator intended their statement to be a form of art or self-expression.

What Is Classified as Vandalism?

The term “vandalism” describes conduct that defaces or damages public or private property. In other words, it is the willful destruction or damaging of property that diminishes its value. Although graffiti is typically made for artistic merit, to praise a particular group, to make a political statement, or to claim territory, graffiti artists diminish the value of the property while doing so. There are some key elements that qualify a crime as vandalism, and as we go through these, we can see the connection to these definitions and graffiti:

  • Physical damage

Although the word “damage” might be subjective to some, and some might consider graffiti an enhancement, the act itself technically does damage to a property. This is because, when done without permission of the owner, it prevents the property from functioning properly and from being in line with the owner’s intentions.

  • Owned by someone else

This factor plays a key role in differentiating between vandalism and art. Graffiti is not a crime in and of itself unless it is gang related. Graffiti is only vandalism if it is done on the property of another person without their permission. Therefore, unless the art violates a specific HOA or other geographical set of rules, you are free to decorate your house in the way you please. Furthermore, commissioned street art and murals from a professional artist like Banksy do not qualify as vandalism.

  • Intentional

One important aspect to remember about vandalism is that it is not a crime that is committed by mistake. For example, if you are painting your house and spill some of the paint on the neighbor’s property, that would not quality as vandalism. However, you would still be legally obligated to pay for the damage sustained.

How Do You Prove Innocence in Vandalism?

If you are charged with vandalism, the classifications of criminal charges vary depending on the value of the property damage. Under Texas Law, this offense is punishable under a Class C, B, or A misdemeanor, or it can be considered a state jail felony of the third, second, or first degree, depending on the level of damage.

You can be charged with committing “Graffiti” specifically under Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 28.08 if you intentionally draw, paint, spray paint, make marks on, or inscribe on the property of another person. In order to form a proper defense against vandalism, we will need to prove that malicious intent was not involved with the destruction or damage of property. For that reason, one of the most effective defense routes is to describe the damage as an accident, but this will involve strategically presented proof. It will help to have an experienced and hardworking lawyer like Derek A. Adame on your side if you are faced with graffiti or vandalism charges.

If you are in need of vandalism defense or other forms of criminal defense, call Derek A. Adame, Attorney at Law at (940) 441-4239 or contact us online.

Share To: