If You Spray, You Pay

If you spray, you pay: What the law says

Stencil art painted on public or private property without permission is a crime, but Washington law treats stand-alone graffiti differently than graffiti laid down by gang members or followers.

Paint, scribble or scratch your mark on property where it’s not wanted, and you can be charged with malicious mischief in the third degree — a gross misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term up to one year.

The state’s anti-gang laws can apply if the graffiti is carried out under the auspices of a street gang.

Painting gang insignia is a second gross misdemeanor charge, which can be added to the existing graffiti rap and compound the penalties.

Local ordinances can come into play if the city, like many in Washington, has its own graffiti ordinances.

Wenatchee’s city code forbids the possession of graffiti materials — spray paint, glass cutters, marking pens, etc. — if they’re carried “under circumstances evincing an intent” to deface property.

For instance, Brandon Hughes, the confessed painter of the pink hearts that dotted Wenatchee in September 2008, was picked up by police with a spray-paint can and a cardboard stencil.

That led to a materials-possession charge under city rules, on top of the misdemeanor charge for defacement.

— Jefferson Robbins, World staff