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Chief prosecutor: New vandalism law should be amended

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“THIS has become a serious problem,” said Chief Prosecutor John Bradley, referring to legislation that created a separate statute and penalty for individuals committing the act of vandalism.

Introduced as House Bill 20-2 by Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, the measure was signed by the governor on March 21, 2020 and became Public Law 21-18.

Bradley said because the CNMI has recently seen “a string of new cases involving damage to property, the Office of the Attorney General is finding that the new vandalism law limits the seriousness of the charge and punishment.”

He added, “Recently, a man broke the glass door at the governor’s office. Another man threw a rock through a car window. Another man broke the window at a bar in Garapan. Another man deliberately rammed his car into another car.”

In all of these cases, under the new law, the maximum punishment is only a fine, Bradley said.

Before the enactment of P.L. 21-18, those crimes were punished as criminal mischief under 6 CMC § 1803(a)(1), and the punishment range was previously determined by the value of the damage done by the defendant, he added.

“The higher the damage, the more serious the punishment range. In addition, the original law enhanced the punishment if the victim was elderly. However, the new law repealed all of those protections,” Bradley said.

He said for crimes committed on or after March 20, 2020, there is no longer a crime of criminal mischief merely by causing damage to the property of another.

“That crime was re-titled as vandalism. In addition, all acts of vandalism, regardless of the value of the damage, are punished only by imposition of a fine and community service hours.”

Bradley said this means that a person destroying a new truck is charged the same as a person breaking a single window. And neither person can be sentenced to imprisonment, he added.

Bradley said the changes also make it very difficult to obtain restitutions for victims.

“Typically, part of the period of imprisonment is suspended to place the defendant on probation and impose a condition of paying restitution. If the defendant fails to pay the restitution, the court can consider revoking the probation and sending the defendant to jail. But, under the new vandalism law, that option is not available,” he added.

A substantial number of property crimes in the CNMI include the destruction of property, the chief prosecutor said.

“With the repeal of the most useful part of the criminal mischief law and the creation of a vandalism offense with no possibility of imprisonment, the Office of the Attorney General has lost a valuable weapon in fighting property crimes,” he added.

Reiterating his previous position on the vandalism law, Bradley said: “Perhaps the Legislature will consider amending the new vandalism law to restore the application of imprisonment as a punishment and return the enhancements based upon the value of the damage to the property.”

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