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West Virginia Senate passes graffiti bill

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 12:02 AM

Senate passes graffiti bill

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that specifies a crime involving graffiti but has less severe penalties after amendments by the Judiciary Committee.

However, Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said the punishments of community service and restitution taken out in the amended version can still be administered by a judge even if the language was taken out of the bill. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates, where a similar bill was introduced last week.

"This bill is really about two things: putting it in code for the first time that it is illegal and the second aspect is what is the penalty associated with that act," Jenkins said. "I've been more focused on the first aspect."

Under current law, law enforcement has had to rely on a misdemeanor charge of destruction of property, spelled out in code under "removal, injury to or destruction of property, monuments designated land boundaries and of certain no trespassing signs." But this bill provides a clear definition of what graffiti is and its punishments.

A similar bill, one that was introduced by Jenkins this session, passed both chambers last year. But a technical error led to its veto by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. That bill contained a felony charge for third offenses, which also was taken out by the committee.

Jenkins said he didn't fight the amendments because he didn't want to the bill to stall.

He also said on the punishment side, judges use the code as reference for what level of punishment he or she can hand down. And they have the authority to order restitution and community service, sometimes in lieu of jail time. Jenkins also said that some of the language requiring 120 hours of community service and allowing judges to suspend for up to two years the driver's license of a juvenile were considered excessive.

The bill that goes to the House prescribes punishments of 24 hours to not more than six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense. The jail time and fine constraints increase with each subsequent conviction.

Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Chiles said he hasn't seen the bill but said he supports graffiti being specified in the state code.

"I think it's enough of a problem that it needed to be specifically addressed," Chiles said.

He added that he also supports community service, particularly when it coincides with cleaning up graffiti, whether it's from the person who is convicted or by someone else.

"I think it is very appropriate putting them to work cleaning up the mess they've made, and we have done that in the past on some," he said.

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