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What Are the Penalties for Cemetery Vandalism In Your State?

Posted by Atty. Harvey I. Lapin on June 1, 2015

                              On April 2, 2015 the Chicago Tribune reported that a suburban Chicago doctor was accused of targeting the lawyer representing his ex-wife in divorce proceedings by vandalizing the grave of the lawyer’s daughter. The doctor was accused of spray painting the tombstone of the lawyer’s daughter, who died in a 2002 hiking accident in Utah at the age of 17. The 49-year-old doctor allegedly stole an artificial tree and photos from the gravesite. The article also indicates that the doctor was charged with a misdemeanor for the criminal damage to property and theft.

  The doctor’s alleged acts were very disturbing for many reasons, but the most important one to the author was that the doctor was only charged with a misdemeanor for vandalizing the daughter’s memorial. Unfortunately, it appears that the police or other governmental authorities were not aware of the provisions of the Illinois Cemetery Protection Act that deal with vandalism of memorials in cemeteries as the doctor should have been charged with a Class 4 felony under Section 765 ILCS 835/1 (b-5) that provides:

  “(Any person who acts without proper legal authority and who willfully and knowingly defaces, vandalizes, injures, or removes a gravestone or other memorial, monument, or marker commemorating a deceased person or group of persons, whether located within or outside of a recognized cemetery, memorial park, or battlefield is guilty of a Class 4 felony for damaging at least one but no more than 4 gravestones, a Class 3 felony for damaging at least 5 but no more than 10 gravestones, or a Class 2 felony for damaging more than 10 gravestones and shall provide restitution to the cemetery authority or property owner for the amount of any damage caused.” (Emphasis provided)

  Hopefully this mistake will be corrected during the process of the proceedings against the doctor. However, the purpose of this article is to remind readers of this column that they should be aware of the specific provisions of the laws in their own state that describe acts of vandalism in cemeteries and sets out the penalties for violations. You should print and retain a copy of the state law that typically can be located and printed out from the legislature’s site on your state government website. This will allow you to quickly provide the applicable information to law enforcement in the event of an incident at your own property. In addition, if the laws in their own state are not up to date or provide for appropriate penalties the members of the state legislature should be contracted to make the required changes.

  Additional topics that could be covered in a specific Cemetery Vandalism Law are: desecration of human remains; removing remains from a gravesite; vandalizing a cemetery, the landscaping, fences or structures in a cemetery; and vandalizing monuments and memorials, and removing a memorial or monument for resale.

  A law might also cover: if a minor violates the act the parents having liability; any unauthorized person that enters closed areas, harasses employees, solicits mourners or funeral directors during an interment or interferes with safety devices has liability; any person that discharges a gun or hunts in a cemetery in violation of the cemetery’s rules can be charged with a misdemeanor; any person that trespasses after hours can be charged; and all fines under this law are to be paid over to the cemetery authority to repair any damage cause by any of the violations.

  This article is for the information of subscribers and does not constitute legal advice about this subject. All subscribers should accordingly consult with their own attorney to make sure they are in compliance with the laws when dealing with an incident.


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