The following op-ed is written by Campbell Co. Attorney Steve Franzen
Soon, political campaigns will be going through the arduous task of putting up political signs. Many people seem to feel that taking or damaging a political sign is not a criminal offense but rather that it just a common occurrence in the territory of political campaigns. However, that is not the case.
A theft of a political sign is no different than the theft of any other personal property.
Under Kentucky law, a person is guilty of theft by unlawful taking if he takes or exercises control over moveable property of another with intent to deprive that person of the property. This would certainly include political signs as well as any other property. Taking a political sign out of someone’s front yard is no less of a theft than taking a chair off of the porch.
Theft of property under Kentucky law is a Class B misdemeanor if the item has a value of less than $500.
A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to a fine of $250 and up to 90 days in jail.
Theft of an item with a value greater than $500 dollars but less than $1,000, is a Class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable with a fine up to $500 and up to a year of jail.
Kentucky also has a law that provides that a person is guilty of criminal mischief in the third degree when, having no right to do so, or any reasonable ground to believe that he has such right, he intentionally or wantonly defaces, destroys or damages any property. This law would also apply to damaging, destroying or defacing political signs as well as to damaging other personal property.
Examples of this would include defacing the sign by spray painting over it. Such conduct would constitute criminal mischief in the third degree under Kentucky law which is a Class B misdemeanor.
During the upcoming campaign season prior to the election on November 8 all candidates and their workers and supporters should understand that defacing or taking political signs is criminal conduct and will be prosecuted as such. It is certainly frustrating and aggravating to put so much time and work into putting up political signs only to have them damaged or stolen. All campaigns should be respectful of each other and all the hard work involved in campaigning including but not limited to the placement of political signs.
Moreover, no candidate or campaign has the right to place their political signs in the public right of way. Political signs, or for that matter, any signs placed in the public right of way, are a nuisance and potentially dangerous. Such signs will be lawfully removed by the local jurisdiction responsible for the right of way.
In my opinion, candidates who place their signs in the right of way tell the public everything they need to know about a candidate’s fitness for office.
If you have any topics you would like to have covered in this column, please contact my office by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at (859) 491-7700 or by regular mail addressed to 319 York Street, Newport, Kentucky 41071.