Crimes Regarding Community Property

by Charles Gillingham

The writer happened to be in a domestic violence department a couple of weeks ago and there was argument in a motion regarding whether a spouse could be convicted of damaging community property. Community property being property acquired during a marriage that belongs to both spouses equally. It was an interesting argument until such time as the knowledgeable young prosecutor cited actual case law to support the position that "yes" there can be crimes against community property. Officers well versed in the law should take care to familiarize themselves with those situations. Some examples are below.

It is important to remember if you go out to a domestic violence call and there is destruction of property, the general rule is that each community property owner has an equal ownership interest in the co-owned property. The law provides that damage or destruction of property by the other marital partner is prohibited. For instance, a spouse may be held criminally liable for the destruction of a husband's bicycle purchased during the marriage. There is also a case where a husband was convicted of felony vandalism when he did damage to the home furnishings when the wife threw him out of the house.

A spouse may also be liable for the theft of community property, such as, money, a car, jewelry, arson etc. Being a spouse is not a defense to theft or vandalism of community assets and will provide probable cause to arrest.

A spouse may also be liable for burglary. One case found that a spouse who left the home for a night could be found guilty of burglary when he came back and committed corporal injury on his spouse. Another found that a defendant could be convicted of burglary in the process of committing a spousal rape when he entered the home after he had lived elsewhere. Another case found that a husband who was living elsewhere who entered the residence without consent and took community property, committed vandalism and spousal abuse could be convicted of burglary.

Again, when the case law is examined, it is clear that the question of whether an individual can commit crimes regarding community property becomes, as it were, married with the answer, yes.