SOMERSET, NJ - Damage to Historic Monument Would Carry Up to $15K Fine, Three to Five Years in Prison.

Legislation Assembly Democrats Joseph Danielsen and Jamel Holley sponsored to preserve the integrity of historic sites in New Jersey gained approval from the General Assembly on Monday.

"Historic sites across this state tell the story not only of New Jersey, but also of the United States of America," said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). "Those who destroy these properties should face a penalty commensurate with the crime of disrespecting this nation's history."

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The bill (A-228) would amend current law to make it a crime of the third degree to knowingly damage or tamper with a historic building, monument or structure that meets the criteria for, or has been determined to be potentially eligible for, inclusion in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places or is formally recognized by a county or municipality as having historic interest. A third degree crime is punishable by three to five years' imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000 or both.

"The preservation of historic sites helps us learn about the past so that we can better understand the present and plan for the future," said Holley (D-Union). "So much of our identity as a country is in historic sites. We have a duty to protect them."

To be eligible for listing on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, a property must:

  • Be at least 50 years old, unless it is exceptionally important;
  • Be historically or architecturally significant on the national, state or local level; and
  • Possess "integrity" from the period during which it earned its significance. Integrity can be defined as a high degree of retention of character-defining features that permits a property to convey a strong sense of its historic qualities.

Under current law, criminal mischief generally is a crime of the third degree if it results in $2,000 or more in damages. If the mischief results in less than $2,000 but more than $500 in damages, it is a crime of the fourth degree, punishable by up to 18 months' imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. Mischief resulting in less than a $500 loss is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six months' imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. 

Certain acts of criminal mischief, however, such as tampering with a grave or causing substantial interruption of a public utility, are specified in state statute as third degree crimes.

The measure, which gained unanimous Assembly approval, now awaits further Senate consideration.