Graffiti: Art that gets you arrested

Graffiti: Art that gets you arrested

In New York, graffiti is practically part of the local landscape. Everywhere you go, you see bright lettering, splashes of color, and even large murals displaying some personal, social, or political messages on the side of a building and on or around bridges and overpasses.

Although graffiti makers and their supporters proclaim its artistic value, decorating someone else’s property without their permission is a Class A misdemeanor that can send the artist to jail for up to a year. New York City has various anti-graffiti task forces dedicated to stopping those who violate the state’s graffiti statute. The government offers cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest of violators and will even remove graffiti upon request.

What counts as graffiti?

New York law defines graffiti as marks that have been painted, drawn, etched, or otherwise placed on private or public property. For these marks to be considered graffiti, the person must intend to cause damage to the property in question.

Additional charges are possible

Individuals charged with violating NYPL 145.60 “Making Graffiti” are frequently also charged with “Possession of Graffiti Instruments,” a Class B misdemeanor that covers the possession of tools and substances such as paint brushes, markers and aerosol paint cans under circumstances that suggest an intent to use them for graffiti purposes.

The charges may not even stop there. Those individuals arrested for Making Graffiti and Possession of Graffiti Instruments can also be arrested for violating NYPL 145 – Criminal Mischief if damage appears to have been caused to the property. Graffiti artists often insist that their work improves a property, but if the owner has not consented to the “improvement,” then the property is deemed to be defaced and therefore damaged.

Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree is a Class A misdemeanor, and if the authorities conclude that the damage exceeds $250, the person can be found guilty of Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree, a felony offense that can send even a first-time offender to prison for up to four years. The consequences are severe for someone who perceives themselves as improving the face of their community.

Anyone convicted of a graffiti offense is often required to take part in a community service aimed at eliminating graffiti and reversing its damaging effects. Prosecutors will also request that the defendant pay restitution to the owner of the defaced property, with the dollar amount based on the costs associated with undoing the damage.

If you have been charged with Making Graffiti and its ancillary offenses, then contact a New York criminal defense attorney. Julie Rendelman handles criminal cases in New York City and can provide the guidance and advocacy you need to prevent an incident from harming your future. To learn more, visit or call 212-951-1232.