State charges felonies in Jacksonville graffiti, vandalism ring

December 26, 2012

Police in Duval County wrapped up an eight-month investigation and are pursuing Jacksonville felony charges against at least five men charged with spray painting buildings and railroad cars near a historic neighborhood. Seventy charges have been filed against 11 different people, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Fives arrests have been made since October, the newspaper reported. One man is charged with more than 20 felonies, including Jacksonville burglary, criminal mischief causing more than $1,000 worth of damage and interfering with a railroad train. All charges are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. That means one person alone is facing more than 100 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines for spray-painting and damaging property.

While decades behind bars for these crimes are pretty unlikely in this case, police don't conduct eight-month investigations to see people get slapped on the wrist. Authorities must believe there is a serious graffiti and vandalism issue in Jacksonville and they'll be looking to these cases to send a message that significant penalties can be levied for these crimes. This is likely a case where the penalties could be more monetary in terms of paying back the businesses and property owners for the damage that was caused, assuming it can be proven, as opposed to stacking years of prison time on the defendants in this case.

Police told the newspaper it costs railroad companies about $3,000 to paint and clean up a rail car once it has been hit by graffiti. A string of vandalisms in Jacksonville's Riverside neighborhood last summer caused about $30,000 worth of damage and local business owners have been fighting back by painting over the graffiti quickly, the newspaper reported. But painting over the vandalism takes time and money -- expenses business owners have to come out of their own pocket for, the newspaper reported.

Restitution for the property owners will likely be a key point in any plea negotiations, if they are taking place. The graffiti is often publicized on local websites and the artists "tag" their work with their code names, essentially putting a signature on their crimes. It gives them credit among the subculture of graffiti "artists," but it doesn't appear to leave much room for a defense if the law comes calling, as it has in this case. Graffiti and vandalism seem like minor charges, Jacksonville misdemeanors that teen-agers pick up while doing things teen-agers eventually come to regret. But these charges are felonies and with burglary charges added, likely for breaking into a railcar to paint it, the charges are serious and have some serious consequences attached.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Duval, Clay or Nassau County, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a Free Consultation. Our Duval County Misdemeanor Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.