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Individuals being criminally charged for graffiti

A San Diego criminal defense case that was wrapped up in July apparently has garnered a large amount of attention across the country.  The individual that was charged apparently had been protesting banks and had used chalk to make his message clear.  

This individual was accused of using chalk to print his message upon a sidewalk.  The message reportedly stated, "Shame on B of A," referring to Bank of America.  Another message said, "No thanks, big banks."  Finally he drew an octopus that appeared to be reaching for money.

One item significant about the case was the 13 misdemeanors that this individual was charged with that could have resulted in 13 years imprisonment and a fine of $13,000. Jail is an extremely unusual penalty for graffiti type cases. The harsh penalties that the man faced motivated San Diego's mayor to refer to the case as "stupid," and the trial resulted in his being acquitted by a jury in less than five hours of deliberations.

Though the criminal defense attorneys for the man who was charged included a First Amendment defense to free speech, this defense was not allowed by the judge. There apparently is no First Amendment defense to claims of defacing of property. So what his attorneys instead argued that the messages simply caused no damage.

Four other individuals recently have been arrested in another state for writing chalk messages protesting the action of local police officials. The outcome in this matter may be different because it is in a different jurisdiction and the individual circumstances are somewhat different. In this instance the individuals have been charged with alleged $5,000 damage and, once again, attempts to raise First Amendment issues are being made. As in all criminal defense cases, no single case is ever quite the same.

Source: Las Vegas Sun, "Chalk protesters' lawyer says First Amendment favors his client," Bethany Barnes, Aug. 16, 2013Huffington Post, "Jeff Olson Acquitted of Charges From Writing In Chalk On San Diego Sidewalk," Elliot Spagot, July 2, 2013

Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results