18 U.S. Code § 1361 - Destruction of Government Property
Under Title 18 U.S.C. 1361, it is a federal offense to destroy or damage any government property under their control. This law protects any property from willful depredation.
To convict someone of violating this statute, a federal prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you intentionally defaced or destroyed the property, knowing it was a crime, making it a “specific intent” crime.
This federal statute is considered “malicious mischief” and are serious charges that carry more severe penalties than state-level crimes.
18 U.S.C. 1361 says, “Whoever willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States, or of any department or agency thereof, or any property which has been or is being manufactured or constructed, or any department or agency thereof, or attempts to commit any of the foregoing offenses, shall be punished….”
The offense covers a range of illegal acts. First, the law applies to damage or destruction of any property owned or leased by the federal government. This includes all buildings, equipment, vehicles, etc. Further, this law applies to items being manufactured under government contracts or any agency to produce the items.
The definition includes language saying any "attempt to commit any of the foregoing offenses," which means the attempt to cause damage to the government property is just as much a federal offense as actually damaging it.
The term "depredation" is generally an act of plundering, looting, pillaging, robbing, or laying waste, which means vandalizing or destroying property.
This law came into focus when President Donald Trump's supporters breached the United States Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden's election results. They caused damage to the building and were charged with violating 18 U.S.C. 1361 and other federal offenses. Let's review this federal law further below.
What is Vandalism?
The word “vandalism” in the context of this law is frequently used to describe an act of property damage. It's defined as the willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of property.
Vandalism can occur in many different forms but includes the following:
- Breaking windows and doors;
- Damaging or burning vehicles;
- Defacing property with paint;
- Using other substances to damage property;
Damaging government property is a serious offense that could result in significant penalties, including jail time. 18 U.S.C. 1752 defines the crime of trespassing on federal buildings or grounds.
What Are the Related Federal Crimes?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 65 Malicious Mischief defines several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1361 destruction of government property, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1362 – damaging communication lines, stations, or systems;
- 18 U.S.C. 1363 – maliciously destroying structures, conveyances, or property within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States;
- 18 U.S.C. 1364 – injure by fire or explosives articles or places in foreign commerce to prevent products from being exported to foreign countries;
- 18 U.S.C. 1365 – tampering with consumer products that affect interstate or foreign commerce or tampering with product labels for risk of injury;
- 18 U.S.C. 1366 – damaging or attempting to damage energy facilities causing over $100,000 in damage;
- 18 U.S.C. 1367 – interference with the operation of a satellite, which could lead to a sentence of ten years in federal prison;
- 18 U.S.C. 1368 – willfully and maliciously causing harm to law enforcement animals or attempting to cause harm to them.
- 18 U.S.C. 1369 – destruction of veterans' memorials, called the Veterans' Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003, applies to statues and monuments of military veterans and the World War II Memorial.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1361?
Suppose you are convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1361, damaging or destroying government property. In that case, the penalties will always depend on the value of the damaged property.
Suppose the damage is less than $1000. In that case, the penalty includes a fine and up to one year in federal prison. On the other hand, suppose the damages are valued at more than $1,000. In that case, you could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1361?
Suppose you have been charged with damaging or destroying government property violating 18 U.S.C. 1361. In that case, our federal criminal defense attorney can use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.
Maybe we could make an argument that you didn't damage or destroy the property. Perhaps you were within a group protest but not the person committing vandalism.
Maybe we could make an argument that the damage was not intentional. Recall that charges under this law require a willful act of destruction. Suppose the damage to the property was an accident. In that case, you might be able to avoid a conviction.
Maybe we could make an argument that the damaged property was not owned or controlled by the United States government. Maybe we could negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea agreement if guilt is not in doubt.
We offer a free case consultation to review the case details. We provide legal representation across the United States on federal criminal matters. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.