Vandalizing, stealing or tampering with a burial ground, grave or other place of interment for human remains can result in you being charged with cemetery desecration. Cemetery desecration includes a variety of activity including digging up a grave, damaging, spray painting or stealing headstones, damaging or stealing flowers or other personal items left on a grave.
If you have tampered with a grave, either by digging it up fully or partially or otherwise vandalizing it, you could be subject to first degree cemetery desecration.
You can be charged with cemetery desecration in the first degree if:
- You cause damages that equal or exceed $250 to a place that is marked as an internment for human remains.
- You steal at least $250 worth of property from a grave or place of human internment that is owned by the deceased or their estate or the organization that maintains the burial grounds
- You commit second degree cemetery desecration after being previously convicted of the same crime
First Degree vs. Second Degree Cemetery Desecration
Cemetery desecration is outlined in New York Penal Law § 145.23 and § 145.22. Second degree desecration is not as extensive as the first degree offense. A second degree cemetery desecration includes intentionally damaging or vandalizing cemetery property as well as stealing property that belongs to the person or organization responsible for the cemetery maintenance or is owned by the deceased’s estate.
Second degree cemetery desecration is classified as a misdemeanor, while first degree cemetery desecration is a Class E felony.
Bobby is a 19-year-old who often sneaks out to the cemetery to drink with his friends. One night, they decide to dig up a grave to see a corpse. Halfway through, Bobby and his friends hear the security guard approaching. In an attempt to avoid being caught, Bobby decides to kick the headstone. One of his friend’s removes a can of black spray paint and tries to cover up the deceased’s name.
Before they run off, Bobby grabs the flowers, photograph and vase left at the grave. A week later, Bobby and his friends are arrested for the crime based off evidence left at the scene. All of them are charged with first degree cemetery desecration, trespassing and criminal mischief.
Cemetery desecration can be linked closely with other crimes that result in additional charges. If you have been charged with cemetery desecration, a prosecutor may also attempt to charge you with trespassing or criminal mischief in the first or second degree.
In order to be convicted of cemetery desecration, you must cause damages that exceed $250. If you argue that the stolen or damaged property does not meet this value, the prosecutor will have to provide evidence of the cost in order to successfully counter your defense.
If the prosecutor is unable to prove that the damaged property is worth at least $250, your defense may be considered valid and your charges could be changed to second degree cemetery desecration or dropped depending on the details of your specific case.
As a Class E felony, first degree cemetery desecration is subject to a maximum sentence of four years in prison. If you have no prior criminal record, you may be able to receive a five-year probation term instead as well as a mandate to pay for the damages you caused.
The Importance of a Lawyer
Being convicted of any crime is serious, but a felony carries additional consequences. A criminal record affectsnearly every aspect of someone’s life including employment, child custody, immigration, driving and other privileges.
If you have been charged with cemetery desecration, it’s crucial that you work with an experienced legal defense attorney. Your lawyer will be able to help you formulate a strong argument against the charges and either reduce your sentence, help you get probation instead of jail time or get the charges dropped altogether.