What constitutes “malicious” destruction of property?

“Malicious” is what separates a crime from an accident that happened to destroy someone’s property. It is also worth noting that the statute covers both “destruction” and lesser “injury” to another person’s belongings, physical or digital.

In Massachusetts, the law is primarily concerned with three things: intention, motive, and cost of the destroyed property. The Commonwealth’s General Code states that destruction of property must be done “willfully” and “maliciously” in order to be a crime.

The “will” of “willfully” refers to intention, which keeps accidents in the realm of the civil courts. If one ran over a neighbor’s tulips while trying to navigate a very narrow shared driveway, this would be unlikely to result in criminal charges. If one lined up the tulips in one’s sights before running them over, this would be a different story.

The other part of the statute covers motive; this is where “maliciously” comes into play. If the destructive act was done out of anger, hatred, or revenge, and specifically targeted at the owner of the destroyed property, then it is done “in malice.” Returning to the tulips—if one had just fought with the neighbor before the destruction of the tulips, this could be interpreted by prosecutors as motive.

Penalties for malicious destruction of property are stiff, with jail time running up to ten years, along with fines in proportion to the value of the property destroyed.

If you’re facing charges of malicious destruction of property, call our office today to discuss your situation.