Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Testing the Boundaries of Vandalism

Posted on: December 10, 2008 at 10:11 a.m.

A 59-year-old woman pleaded guilty Friday to bombing a federal courthouse and a FedEx building earlier this year in what her attorney described as "misguided vandalism." Ella Louise Sanders of San Diego entered her plea to possession and use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence. She could face up to 30 years in prison when she is sentenced in August. The courthouse explosion on May 4 spread nails and shrapnel as far as two blocks, and authorities almost immediately began looking into whether it was related to the April 25 FedEx bombing. No one was injured in either bombing. As part of her guilty plea, Sanders said she conspired with others to construct and detonate a series of pipe bombs. She said she bought explosive materials and stole pipes to make five bombs that were used in both explosions, prosecutors said.

The creative defense concocted by the vandalism defense attorney invented an interesting definition of the term "vandalism." Vandalism is ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable. Such action includes criminal damage, defacement, graffiti and crass erection of an eyesore. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger actually signed into law a measure that requires those convicted of graffiti vandalism to clean up their scrawls and possibly keep the surface clean for one year. Usually, vandalism is a charge that has more to do with petty crimes that bombings.

The law which Go. Schwarzeneggar signed into law was sponsored by Los Angeles. City officials say Los Angeles has seen a more than 25 percent increase in graffiti in the past three years, from 25 million square feet of marred surfaces in 2005 to 31.7 million in the year that ended Wednesday.

The law makes it mandatory for a person convicted of graffiti vandalism to repair the property when possible. However, a judge could decide not to order the defendant to risk injury by cleaning up graffiti on a sign hanging over the freeway.

Tagged as: california criminal laws


Phils sabordo comm 174 on December 13, 2008 at 12:37 a.m. wrote:

I do agree with the governor's plan to make those who are caught vandalizing (graffiti) property to keep it clean for a year. Graffiti in many ways is beautiful but can ruin the aesthetic of the surrounding community. This is a far more lenient punishment than having to go jail. I believe this will definitely limit the amount of graffiti going up in many communities.

Yulanda Au, CS 174 on December 12, 2008 at 5:59 p.m. wrote:

It is pretty farfetched that this should be considered

Phillip Huynh on December 12, 2008 at 5:09 p.m. wrote:

I do not agree with the crime being considered vandalism because she was clearly trying to do some damage to either property or people around. How do you still considered it vandalism when she made 5 pipe bombs already? This case should be regarding as an act of terrorism because she clearly had a bad motive when she decided to make more than 3 pipe bombs. If she would have made one pipe bomb just because she was curious then I would somewhat understand, but she didn't and I think that the prosecution should not offer her a deal for her guilty plea. I could just image that if the defendant was from the middle east that people would automatically label this case a attempted terrorist attack so why treat this case any different? There should be consistency when it comes with bombing of any kind especially after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.

Jeff Enos on December 12, 2008 at 3:39 p.m. wrote:

I think the question of intent plays a big role in this case. Could people have been hurt or killed? Yes. Did she intend or set out to kill or hurt people? Who knows? She did admit guilt to a 'crime of violence', but was that violence aimed at people or at property? Since no one was hurt, one could make the argument that she intentionally set these bombs off in places where she knew there wouldn't be any people. If this was the case, I can then see how defense attorneys could interpret this as 'misguided vandalism,' even if most people hear this and think it sounds ridiculous. That is the beauty in our system. It takes into account everything and doesn't assume that a crime is black & white. Having said that, I don't think that this woman's defense stands any chance. And it shouldn't. This woman is obviously a danger to society and to not acknowledge that would just be irresponsible. But she should still be allowed to give a defense, even if it does sound as crazy as 'misguided vandalism.'

Keri Wittmeyer Comm 174 on December 11, 2008 at 7:42 p.m. wrote:

I completely agree with Tatiana about confusion over bombing buildings somehow being misguided vandalism. If you're going to say bombing buildings is 'just vandalism', how is it misguided? She's 59 and could obviously afford a decent lawyer; she isn't some 13 year old kid. Furthermore, she admitted to participating in a crime of violence. If vandalism is defined as 'ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable' and she's pleading to a crime of violence, how is that vandalism? There's a big difference between spray painting a wall and conspiring with others to set off bombs in public buildings, with people in them. How can an attorney's wording of a crime change the facts? That doesn't seem right at all. As for requiring offenders to clean up their graffiti, I also agree with Tatiana that if they were willing to take the risk to put it in a dangerous place, they should have to go back up to fix it. Why should someone whose fault it isn't risk their life to fix someone else's mess? They should at least be paying for someone else to clean it up if they're not willing to do it themselves. Graffiti has its own underground following, with famous artists like Banksy at the forefront, glorifying the defacement of public property (I'll admit, I think that someone like Banksy is different than someone scrawling initials in crude spraypaint, but the idea is the same). Maybe if people were a little bit more afraid of the consequences, they wouldn't just brush it off as 'no big deal' and continue their behavior. If the consequences aren't working, then someone needs to figure out why people vandalize, and address the root of the issue.

Tatiana Vardanyan on December 11, 2008 at 12:31 p.m. wrote:

Sanders crime seemed more like terrorism than 'misguided vandalism'. What exactly is' misguided vandalism' anyway? One either destroys public property or they don't and in this case misguided or not she commited the crime. What exactly is a 59-year old woman doing bombing anything in the first place, let alone a federal court building? What motivated her to commit such a crime? Sanders was lucky that she didn't kill or injure any people during the act. Her attorney was able to creatively down play her crime by terming it 'misguided vandalism'. One can truly appreciate the thought process that went on in order to have reached such a conclusion. With repect to the new vandalism law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar requiring convicted individuals to clean their mess and keep it clean for an entire year, apparently this consequence has had no effect on criminals due to its increase in such acts. Perhaps the judges should require those individuals who had nothing better than to deface public property in dangerous places to clean up despite the risk of injury. Afterall, they risked injury to themselves getting up on the freeway signs to deface public property, perhaps they should risk injury once more to clean it up.

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