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Tagging and graffiti

Sentences for tagging or graffiti

What sentence am I likely to get for tagging?

Case: [2014] NZHC 1592

For a first tagging offence, involving just a single case of tagging and with no permanent damage, you’d normally get a fine of between $100 and $200.

However, you may qualify for diversion or be able to get a discharge without conviction, or the judge may order you come up for sentence if called upon within a set time, usually six or nine months (this is sometimes called a “suspended” sentence).

As the tagging gets more extensive and serious, a community-based sentence like community work might be imposed.

Case: HC Gisborne, CRI-2008-416-2, 15 Feb 2008; Cases: HC Christchurch, CRI-2009-409-000059, 7 May 2009; [2012] NZHC 938; HC Napier, CRI-2008-441-8, 5 May 2008; HC Napier, CRI-2011-441-35, 25 Oct 2011; Cases: [2015] NZHC 1799; [2012] NZHC 1665

For example, a defendant was given 50 hours’ community work for tagging two school buildings in three places with vivid markers. In the defendant’s favour was that he’d paid $100 in reparation and that his one previous criminal conviction wasn’t for tagging.

If your case involves serial tagging or previous tagging convictions or both, the penalties will usually be more serious, involving longer community-based sentences, and even prison terms in the most serious cases. For example:

  • 150 hours’ community work was given for tagging two buildings with orange paint, costing over $1,000 to repair. The judge said the defendant hadn’t responded to lesser terms for previous tagging.
  • Four months’ community detention was given for a one-night “tagging spree” involving 22 counts of intentional damage for etching tags on windows, and 21 counts of tagging (Summary Offences Act, section 11A) for spray-painting buildings. The defendant had some previous tagging convictions. He was also sentenced to nine months’ supervision and 200 hours of community work, and had to pay $12,000 reparation.
  • Four weeks’ jail was given for tagging two buildings on one day and two others several months later, charged as four counts of intentional damage. The tagging cost over $1,000 to repair, and the defendant had also admitted other tagging over several months.
  • 14 months’ jail was ordered for 476 cases of tagging, which were charged as intentional damage. The cost of removing all the tags had been $82,000. The defendant also had to pay $15,000 reparation.

Where you do the tagging and what the tag is can also make the charge and/or the penalty more severe. For example:

  • A defendant accused of tagging gang insignia in a District Court stairwell was convicted of wilful damage under the Summary Offences Act and given four weeks’ jail. The judge said this was “a contempt of Court and an incitement to others”. (Apparently the fact that it was a gang insignia rather than just a personal tag was also an aggravating factor, and not just that it was done in the courthouse.)
  • A defendant was convicted of intentional damage under the Crimes Act for a single etched tag into the prism glass (lens) of an old lighthouse that was maintained by and important to the local community for its historical value. He was given four months’ community detention and 200 hours community work.

    Note: The sentence you get can also depend on what town or region you’re in. For example, the courts in Hawke’s Bay tend to deal with tagging more harshly than in other parts of the country.

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How to find the cases we’ve cited in this chapter

This chapter cites a number of New Zealand court decisions as legal authority for the law as we’ve stated it. If you need to look up these cases, you can look at the references for each section and search for them either online or in a law library.

When we give the case citation, we give just the unique case reference – for example, “[2012] NZHC 15”. We haven’t included the case name (which is usually in a format like “Police v Douglas” or “R v Myers”).

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Cases that have “NZLR” in the citation (for “New Zealand Law Reports”) usually won’t be available online, but they are available in hard copy in some larger city public libraries, published in orange-brown volumes. For the occasional case that we’ve cited from other report series (like CRNZ, for “Criminal Reports of New Zealand”), you’d need to go to a specialist law library at a university or local Law.

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