Legal Repercussions For Stealing or Vandalizing Political Signs

Recorded on October 13, 2020.

What are the legal consequences for stealing or vandalizing someone’s political yard signage? Attorney Ben Barry of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP is on the radio with WVMT discussing the law.

Please give it a listen or read the transcript below.

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Man 1: Welcome back to the morning drive. Marcus and Kurt with you. And joining us on the phone line is Attorney Ben Barry. He’s with Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Ben, I got a question for you relating to… We’re in the political season.

The political signs are out. But I just saw that it’s actually a felony in New York if you damage someone’s political signs. So, I know I… I mean, this is one of those crazy times. I already had cameras at my house for my own personal security. But I put my signs actually in my camera’s view because right now I can’t trust that people won’t mess with them.

Ben Barry: Well, that is true. In all of the states tampering with anyone’s personal property is generally a misdemeanor level offense. In New York, there’s an exception for political signage. And so what I would advise your listeners to not do is don’t mess with your neighbor’s political sign even if you disagree with the content. It is protected, First Amendment speech to have a political sign on your lawn. And also, in addition to the trespass of the property, it is a separate crime in and of itself to remove the sign.

Man 2: Is it handled differently if somebody steals or vandalizes a political sign on someone’s personal property as opposed to… you know how people also stick those signs out on public spots all over the place? Is it handled differently if someone steals a sign that’s on a, you know, a greenbelt, or defaces it, or destroys it?

Ben Barry: Well, I think that there are two different crimes that can be levied against the individual, one is the trespass and one is the destruction to the property. So, it may not be handled differently with respect to the removal of the sign or the defacing of the sign, but there may be a separate charge if you’re actually entering onto the property of a private individual who has posted a sign that you disagree with and you deface or remove that sign. Separate charge.

So, you’d be charged with two things as opposed to one in a circumstance where you’re entering public property where you have a right to be, and then doing something that you’re not supposed to do.

Man 1: And, Ben, as a candidate many, many times, I certainly am one of those people that had signs stolen before. And so, I always would like to have had them charged with a felony. But at the same time, boy, a felony in New York. So, I wonder, are there any examples of somebody actually getting charged with a felony in New York, do you know?

Ben Barry: Off the top of my head, I don’t know of examples. But I’m certain that the legislature had circumstances where they thought that there should be an elevation in the status of the crime. And so what I suspect is that, that statute was supported by several individuals being charged with misdemeanor level offenses and that not quite doing the trick to deter other people from doing it. And so the legislature elevated the level of that offense.

Man 1: And keep in mind, I mean, we’re talking about a felony here. But there are fines. And if you are found guilty of a felony, you won’t have the right to vote. So even what you’re railing against by, you know, getting angry at a sign you could lose your rights as a citizen to vote. That’s hugely damaging, not just to the sign but to the person who’s committing the crime.

Ben Barry: It absolutely is. Very serious offense.

Man 2: And, Ben, I’ll bet you that this is happening more this year, right now. And I’m just basing this on anecdotal evidence, nothing more than that. But with the polarization that we have in politics right now all across the country, I bet you this is happening more than ever.

Ben Barry: I think that the political environment has changed slightly. And as a result of that, I think that the behaviors of the citizens has changed slightly as well. So hopefully, people can keep their behaviors in check, and they’re not going out and committing misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the states that they’re in, and allowing the political views of their neighbors to be expressed.

Man 1: And do you know what the penalty is in Vermont for someone who damages, or vandalizes, or steals a sign?

Ben Barry: To my knowledge, it’s a misdemeanor level offense.

Man 1: But again, as you said, it’s not just the offense of maybe stealing or vandalizing. You could actually get trespassing and who knows what other minor penalties or charges you might face, depending on where that sign is.

Ben Barry: That’s correct.

Man 1: Outside of asking people, please, don’t damage signs. What message should we make sure that people are aware of, especially when they consider the signs are out there. People are expressing their opinions. It’s our freedom of speech that needs to be protected. And so one of…in ways to do that it’s respecting those signs.

Ben Barry: Respect the signs. And I think that the most important thing is for people to vote.

Marcus: Yeah, exactly, and no matter how much you may dislike, the candidate, if that’s your neighbor or whoever it is may have on their sign you’ve got to respect it. People have different political viewpoints. And, yeah, you’re talking about potentially a $1,000 fine and more.

Man 1: All right, Ben. Well, thank you for the insight. We appreciate it. And again, we hope that everyone gets along. We have common respectful discourse. But let’s all get out and vote this season. Our thanks to Ben Barry for his insight on taking a look at this particular issue. If you have questions that regard the law feel free to give a call to Martin, Harding, & Mazzotti at

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