A story receiving some media attention in the Rocky Mountain area this weekend is the filing of charges against two men in Utah for allegedly knocking over a rock formation. One has been charged with criminal mischief, and the other charged with conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, both felonies. The video of the incident, which occurred several months ago, has received many hits online.
While one of the men knocked over a rock formation in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, the other recorded it.
Criminal mischief occurs when one individual damages the property of another, or even when one damages or destroys jointly owned property. The seriousness of the criminal mischief offense is determined by the damage to the property itself, typically the cost of repair or in some situations replacement (as opposed to the amount paid for the item).
In this case, the damage estimated is based upon the cost of constructing the rock formation anew, given that the formation could not be reconstructed. Because of this, the case poses a unique and interesting legal situation. At the time of the incident, no Utah statute specifically criminalized the vandalism or destruction of such geological areas – although such a law currently is being contemplated by the Utah Legislature, perhaps in response to the legal difficulties posed by charges in this case. What makes this case so interesting is that the item destroyed (an ancient rock formation) cannot be replaced, and therefore calculating replacement value under any traditional analysis does not seem possible. This anomaly ensures the case will continue to receive attention for months to come.
Should destruction of geological areas be a crime? If so, how seriously should it be punished? How should damage be calculated, if whatever is damaged cannot be replaced? Should such actions be criminalized so seriously that they become felonies?
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.