Penal Code 587 PC
(Damaging Railroad Tracks in California)

Penal Code 587 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to damage or obstruct a railroad track.

Examples of illegal acts under this statute include

  • Ron uses a propane torch to bend the metal on a section of railroad tracks.
  • Pam throws an old mattress across a RR track.
  • Calvin crushes a railroad tie (which is connected to a set of tracks) with a sledge hammer.

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 587. These include showing that an accused party:

  • did not act with malice;
  • did not cause injury; and/or,
  • was wrongfully arrested.

Penalties

A violation of PC 587 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, an offender can be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.

If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by up to three years in the county jail.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

railroad tracks california
Penal Code 587 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to damage or obstruct a railroad track.

1. The legal definition of damaging railroad tracks under Penal Code 587

Penal Code 587 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to do either of the following:

  1. maliciously injure or destroy any railroad track, or part thereof; or,
  2. maliciously obstruct the rails or track of a railroad.1

An act done “maliciously” is one that is done wrongfully and performed intentionally and without legal cause.

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused under Penal Code 587 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no malice,
  2. no injury; and/or,
  3. wrongful arrest.

2.1. No malice

Please recall that a defendant has to act “maliciously” to be found guilty under Penal Code 587. This means that it is a valid legal defense for an accused to show that he did not act with malice.

2.2. No injury

An accused is only guilty under this statute if he actually injured or destroyed a section of railroad tracks. Therefore, it is always a strong defense for a defendant to show his actions caused no injury.

2.3. Wrongful arrest

Police sometimes arrest the wrong person. If a prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is the person who caused injury/obstruction, then the crime should be dismissed.

woman behind bars
A violation of this law can result in jail time

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A violation of PC 587 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the offender can be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.2

If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by up to three years in the county jail.3

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to damaging railroad tracks. These are:

  1. trespass – PC 602;
  2. vandalism – PC 594; and,
  3. damaging utility lines – PC 591

4.1. Trespass – PC 602

Trespass is a crime under California Penal Code 602.

Trespass occurs when a person enters or remains on another person's property without their permission.4

In most cases, PC 602 violations are charged as misdemeanors. As such, the offense is punishable by:

  • up to six months in county jail; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.5

4.2. Vandalism – PC 594

Vandalism is a crime per California Penal Code 594.

Vandalism occurs when a person

  • defaces,
  • damages, or
  • destroys

another person's property without their permission.6

A violation of PC 594 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the dollar value of the property damage that was done.

Either charge is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail; and/or,
  • a significant fine.7

4.3. Damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines – PC 591

California Penal Code 591 makes it a crime for a person to damage or obstruct any phone, electrical or utility lines.

A violation of PC 591 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Either charge is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail; and/or,
  • a significant fine.8

Were you accused of damaging a railroad track in California? Call us for help…

california railroad criminal defense
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 587 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 587 PC. This code section states: “Every person who maliciously does either of the following is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year:

    (a) Removes, displaces, injures, or destroys any part of any railroad, whether for steam or horse cars, or any track of any railroad, or any branch or branchway, switch, turnout, bridge, viaduct, culvert, embankment, station house, or other structure or fixture, or any part thereof, attached to or connected with any railroad.

    (b) Places any obstruction upon the rails or track of any railroad, or of any switch, branch, branchway, or turnout connected with any railroad.

  2. See same.

  3. See same. See also PC 1170(h) PC.

  4. California Penal Code 602 PC.

  5. See same.

  6. California Penal Code 594 PC.

  7. See same.

  8. California Penal Code 591 PC.

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