A crime that I did not know existed


The first time I saw someone run onto a football field during play, during a particularly dismal Steelers showing years ago, I watched the police tackle the interloper and drag him away, and wondered what would happen next. I hurried to the newspaper the next morning, turned to the sports section, and discovered that the man had been charged with defiant trespass. Until that moment, I had no idea that one form of trespassing could be legally considered more defiant than another.

I find that I come across areas of crime that I was not aware of less and less frequently as time goes on, but the Post-Gazette had one for me today:

Michael Helms, 27, pleaded guilty yesterday to arson and agricultural vandalism, and Robert Helms, 22, pleaded guilty to arson.

Yup, agricultural vandalism is distinct from regular vandalism. It is right there in the Pennsylvania code:

§ 3309. Agricultural vandalism.

(a) Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of agricultural vandalism if he intentionally or recklessly defaces, marks or otherwise damages the real or tangible personal property of another, where the property defaced, marked or otherwise damaged is used in agricultural activity or farming.

(b) Grading.–Agricultural vandalism is a felony of the third degree if the actor intentionally causes pecuniary loss in excess of $5,000, a misdemeanor of the first degree if the actor intentionally causes pecuniary loss in excess of $1,000 or a misdemeanor of the second degree if the actor intentionally or recklessly causes pecuniary loss in excess of $500. Pecuniary loss includes the cost of repair or replacement of the property affected. Otherwise, agricultural vandalism is a misdemeanor of the third degree.

(c) Definition.–As used in this section, the terms “agricultural activity” and “farming” mean the commercial production of agricultural crops, livestock or livestock products, poultry or poultry products, milk, eggs or dairy products, or fruits or other horitcultural products.

There is also institutional vandalism:

§ 3307. Institutional vandalism.

(a) Offenses defined.–A person commits the offense of institutional vandalism if he knowingly desecrates, as defined in section 5509 (relating to desecration of venerated objects), vandalizes, defaces or otherwise damages:

any church, synagogue or other facility or place used for religious worship or other religious purposes; any cemetery, mortuary or other facility used for the purpose of burial or memorializing the dead; any school, educational facility, community center, municipal building, courthouse facility, State or local government building or vehicle or juvenile detention center; the grounds adjacent to and owned or occupied by any facility set forth in paragraph (1), (2) or (3); or any personal property located in any facility set forth in this subsection.

(a.1) Illegal possession.–A person commits the offense of institutional vandalism if, with intent to violate subsection (a), the person carries an aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker or similar marking device onto property identified in subsection (a).

(b) Grading.–An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree if the act is one of desecration as defined in section 5509 or if the actor causes pecuniary loss in excess of $5,000. Pecuniary loss includes the cost of repair or replacement of the property affected. Otherwise, institutional vandalism is a misdemeanor of the second degree.


Johnny Cash already warned you not to take your guns to town, but let me be the first to tell you, don’t take your aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker or similar marking device to church.

Here is a bit of information on the original Vandals, who, from a Roman perspective, were very bad for both agriculture and institutions. They did not have spray paint or sharpies at their disposal, but they did have swords.

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