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What is graffiti?

Graffiti is defined as writing, drawing, marking, scratching or damaging property in a way that cannot be wiped away easily with a dry cloth.

Is graffiti illegal?

It depends. Sometimes graffiti can be legal. For example, if you have permission from the owner of the property or it is a legal graffiti space. 

BUT, graffiti is against the law when it is visible from a public place and you do not have permission of the owner of the property, or your local council.  Graffiti is also a crime if it is offensive and visible from a public place.  This means graffiti that is rude, abusive, distasteful or disrespectful is illegal even with permission of the owner.

It is also against the law to stick or post any kind of sign, poster, sticker or paper on any structure, such as a building or wall unless you get the permission of the owner or the local council beforehand.  

Can I buy spray paint?

If you are under 18, it is against the law for anyone to sell you spray paint, unless you have a statutory declaration (a kind of official letter) from your employer, saying that you need the spray paint for your job.  

Can I carry a graffiti tool?

A graffiti tool is anything that can be used to make graffiti, including things like spray paint or a marker pen.

It is against the law to carry a graffiti tool anywhere, if you have the intention to create illegal graffiti.  

It is also against the law to carry a graffiti tool

  • on public transport,  
  • in certain public places (like roads, footpaths, train stations, wharves or markets), or
  • in a private place where you do not have permission to be.  

Carrying  graffiti tools such as spray cans in these places will not be against the law if you need it for your work.

Can I be searched for graffiti tools?

If you are under 14 years old, the police are not allowed to search you for a graffiti tool without a warrant (permission from the court).  

If you are 14 or older, the police may search you without a warrant if they think that you have a graffiti tool, and that you are likely to destroy or get rid of it before they can get a search warrant.  If you are in an area where there is a lot of graffiti, or it seems like the area that you are in has recently been marked with graffiti, this may be enough for the police to think you have a graffiti tool with you. The police can only search you if you are in a public space or are trespassing on someone else’s property.  

Transit officers (on public transport) are not allowed to search you for any graffiti tools.

Can my graffiti tool be confiscated?

If it is reasonable for the police to think that you have a graffiti tool or there is other evidence that you committed a graffiti crime, they can take that item from you. This only applies if you are 14 years or older.

If the police have taken something from you, they must return it to you if there are no charges held against you for 3 months, or you are found not guilty.

Transit officers on public transport can confiscate a graffiti tool from you if they think that you have used or will use the graffiti tool to commit a graffiti crime.  Transit officers can use reasonable force to take your graffiti tool, but only if they have already asked you to hand it over. They are only allowed to confiscate graffiti tools that they can see.

What happens if I’ve been caught carrying graffiti tools by the police?

If the police catch you illegally carrying a graffiti tool they can fine you up to around $700.

What are the penalties for graffiti crimes?

If you are caught creating illegal graffiti, the police may:

  • warn you not to do it again;
  • give you a caution; or
  • charge you for a graffiti crime.

If you are under 18 and are charged for a graffiti crime and then found guilty, depending on the case, a court can:

  • dismiss the charge (letting you off the hook), but require you or your parents to make a promise – for example, that you will stop marking illegal graffiti;
  • put you on a good behaviour bond for up to 12 months;
  • order you to be placed on probation or under supervision;
  • make you to pay the cost of removing the graffiti or poster;
  • send you to group conferencing where the police and others meet with you to discuss the crime and its consequences and then as a group agree on the most appropriate outcome;  
  • order you to report regularly to the authorities (called a ‘Youth Attendance Order’);
  • give you a fine (the amount of the fine will depend on the circumstances);
  • make you pay up to $1000 for the cost of repairing the damage you have caused; or
  • order that you be detained in a youth residential centre or youth justice centre (but only in serious circumstances such as if you have committed graffiti crimes many times and seem likely to do it again).

For more information about these penalties see “Criminal Law”.

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