Up until now, the only way for a graffiti artist to get charged with a crime was to actually be caught in the act-- painting a piece, putting up a poster, or catching a tag. Even the most prolific all-city vandals could only be charged for the pieces they were doing while arrested-- which meant that serious jail-time was generally not a risk. For instance, after a five-borough graffiti spree in 1995, Cost was busted for putting up a sticker in Queens, but only got 200 days of community service.

Relatively light sentences for graffiti crime might be a thing of the past, however, if some of the local District Attorneys get their way. In a groundbreaking case, they've charged the legendary Alan Ket with crimes that could land him in the clink for decades-- crimes that no one ever witnessed him committing. The Times has a report:

Relying on computer evidence seized from his Manhattan home last October, the district attorneys in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens have charged Mr. Ket under his real name, Alain Maridueña, with 14 criminal counts, including trespass, criminal mischief and making graffiti. If convicted, he could potentially face decades in prison and huge financial penalties.

Mr. Maridueña is charged with painting several recent images on subway cars, a form of graffiti vandalism that has largely died out since the early 1990s. But his case, and his recent professional history, underscore how graffiti has been propelled from the shadowy corners of the subway system into a global genre of virtual images circulated on the Internet, and become a powerful influence in design, fashion and graphics.

The case could pose an important test for prosecutors and the police, since Mr. Maridueña was never caught in the act and has no previous criminal record in New York City. Instead, the government’s case appears to be based largely on what prosecutors say is the unmistakable detail of his graffiti signature — his “KET” tag — and the fact that the tag is visible on photographs of illegal subway graffiti that were entered into Mr. Maridueña’s home computer only hours after identical work was discovered on subway cars.

Ket is a bit of a graffiti celebrity, because of his connection with Mark Ecko's business interests, but graffiti artists have always documented their own work-- and with the advent of the internet, many share photos on sites like Artkrimes and Saster. If Ket gets convicted and the conviction stands, many of those artists could be prosecuted-- not just for the pieces they were caught doing, but for ones that they've photographed and stored on their computers. And a logical next step is to try to prosecute people for pieces that have been documented by themselves and others online-- and that could have some serious repercussions for anyone who's ever taken a picture of graffiti and uploaded it to Flickr.

Discussion about the case at Streetsy
Ket pieces at Flickr
Ket painting in 1991 on Youtube
Bucky says the case against Ket is weak

Ket piece from Saster.