Penal Code 587 PC | Damaging Railroad Tracks
Penal Code 587 PC – Damaging Railroad Tracks
Penal Code 587 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to maliciously damage or destroy railroad tracks, bridges, tunnels, train signals, or other railroad property. This offense is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances.
Specifically, PC 587 states that “Every person who maliciously, with intent to obstruct the business of any railroad, or to injure, delay or obstruct any locomotive engine, tender, car or train of cars, or any other property of said railroad, sets fire to any bridge, trestle, tunnel, culvert, embankment, building or structure, or any part thereof, attached to or connected with such railroad, or destroys, displaces, tampers with or injures the track, roadbed, tunnel, bridge, trestle, culvert, embankment, building or structure, or any part thereof, attached to or connected with such railroad, or destroys, displaces, tampers with or injures any signal or device for the control of or guidance of locomotives or trains, or places any obstruction upon the rails or track of such railroad, or displaces, tampers with, injures or destroys any switch, frog, rail, crosstie, sleeper, viaduct, bridge, trestle, culvert, embankment, building or structure, or any part thereof, attached to or connected with such railroad, is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three or four years.”
Elements of the Crime
To prove that someone is guilty of damaging railroad property under this law, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- The defendant damaged, destroyed, tampered with, displaced, or injured railroad property;
- The railroad property was a track, roadbed, tunnel, bridge, trestle, culvert, embankment, building, structure, signal, switch, frog, rail, crosstie, sleeper, viaduct or any other property attached or connected to the railroad;
- When the defendant acted, he/she intended to obstruct the business of the railroad or intended to injure, delay or obstruct a locomotive, engine, tender, car or train;
- The defendant acted maliciously, meaning he/she intentionally committed a wrongful act or acted with the unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else.
This offense does not require any actual disruption or damage to railroad operations. As long as the defendant intended to obstruct or interfere with the railroad, and took a direct step towards causing damage, he/she can be convicted.
Damaging railroad property is a “wobbler” offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, at the prosecutor’s discretion.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- Up to one year in county jail, and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000
If charged as a felony, the potential penalties are:
- Two, three or four years in California state prison, and/or
- A fine of up to $10,000
In determining whether to file misdemeanor or felony charges, the prosecutor will consider factors such as:
- The extent of the damage or disruption caused;
- Whether the defendant has a prior criminal record, especially for similar offenses; and
- The defendant’s motive for committing the crime.
If you are accused of violating Penal Code 587, you can challenge the charges by raising any applicable legal defenses. Common defenses include:
- Lack of intent – If you did not act with the specific intent to obstruct railroad operations or damage property, you are not guilty under this law. For example, if you accidentally tripped and fell onto the tracks, causing damage. Or if you were unaware the property belonged to a railroad.
- Intoxication – You can argue that you were legally intoxicated and unable to form the intent required for a PC 587 conviction. Voluntary intoxication can negate specific intent, but generally not general criminal intent.
- Necessity – The “necessity” defense allows a defendant to avoid liability in an emergency situation, where the harm from violating the law is less than the harm that would result from complying with it. For example, damaging tracks to save someone’s life.
- Self-defense – Damaging railroad property in reasonable self-defense or defense of others may provide a defense. However, the defense only applies if you used no more force than reasonably necessary.
- Mistake of fact – If you mistakenly believed certain facts to be true, and those facts negate an element of the crime, you are not guilty. I.e. you thought the property belonged to a private company rather than a railroad.
An experienced California criminal defense attorney can help assess the details of your case and decide which defenses to pursue.
There are also other California laws that prohibit interfering with railroad operations or damaging railroad property. These include:
- PC 591 – Removing or altering railroad track components, like rails, bolts, spikes, plates, etc.
- PC 592 – Throwing objects at trains to injure people or frighten operators.
- PC 593 – Unlawfully boarding any locomotive, railroad car, or train.
- PC 594 – Placing obstructions on railroad tracks with intent to derail a train.
- PC 595 – Altering or removing railroad signals or lights with intent to bring trains into collision.
- PC 596 – Displaying unauthorized signs or signals that may be mistaken for those used by a railroad.
- PC 602(k) – Trespassing on railroad property or passenger transportation facilities like train stations.
Violating any of these laws may lead to misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances.
Penal Code 587 PC makes it a wobbler offense in California to maliciously damage or tamper with railroad tracks, bridges, tunnels, signals or other property. If convicted, a defendant faces up to 4 years in prison and steep fines. But an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed by challenging the prosecution’s evidence and raising legal defenses.