When a person intentionally damages or destroys another person’s property, it is considered criminal mischief. A common example of criminal mischief is vandalism, although acts such as computer hacking may also constitute criminal mischief. Criminal mischief may be classified as a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the value of the damaged property and certain other elements pertaining to the incident.
Types of Criminal Mischief
Criminal mischief may be any type of activity that damages another person’s property, including:
- Graffiti on buildings, vehicles, or other property
- Removal or marring of paint, as in keying a vehicle
- Removal or moving of a boundary marker
- Maliciously hacking into a person’s computer
- Introducing a virus into someone’s computer
- Destroying property with fire or weapons
- Tampering with a fire hydrant or hose
Criminal Mischief Charges
If property that is valued at less than $200 is damaged, it is considered to be a second degree misdemeanor in most states. A second offense may result in a first degree misdemeanor, as may a slightly higher property value. If the property value exceeds $1000, criminal mischief is often classified as a felony.
Valuation of Property
To determine the severity of criminal mischief charges, a valuation of the damage must be made. If the property that is damaged is completely destroyed, the entire value of the property may be held against the defendant. If the property was damaged in such a way that the value is depleted but the property can be restored through repairs, the value of the repairs may be used to determine the severity of the crime. In some criminal mischief cases, it is necessary to call in a professional to assess the value of damaged or destroyed property.
Criminal Mischief Penalties
The penalty for criminal mischief that is determined to be a second degree misdemeanor is typically a fine. More severe criminal mischief charges may warrant jail or prison time as well as fines. Fines and incarceration periods may vary according to the severity of the crime. In nearly all cases of criminal mischief, the defendant is also ordered to make restitution to the property owner. This means that the defendant must either replace the damaged or destroyed property, or pay the property owner an amount that is determined by the judge.
Criminal Mischief Defense
To fit the definition of criminal mischief, damage to property must be intentional. If it is determined that damage was done accidentally, as in the case of an altercation, criminal mischief charges may be dismissed. Any type of activity that was not meant to damage the property, such as damaging an appliance or vehicle while attempting to fix it, is also not considered criminal mischief.
If extenuating circumstances may have caused the defendant to damage the property, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to bring the intentional nature of the crime into question. An example of this is if the defendant was having a medical episode that may have affected the defendant’s control over the actions that caused the damage. If property was damaged as an individual was defending against an attacker, it may also be considered extenuated circumstances that excuse the defendant’s actions.
If it can be determined that the property was legally owned by the defendant, criminal mischief charges may be dismissed. This defense may also result in lessened charges and a decrease in valuation of the property damaged if it is determined that the property was owned jointly by the victim and the defendant. An experienced lawyer may be able to assist in obtaining the documentation necessary to prove ownership of the damaged property.
Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyers
Even if facing misdemeanor criminal mischief charges, it is important that a defendant consult with a criminal defense lawyer. Criminal mischief charges may harm a defendant’s job prospects and carry a degree of shame into personal relationships. Criminal defense lawyers have a vast and well rounded understanding of the laws regarding criminal mischief, and may be able to assist defendants in having charges lessened or dismissed.
“Criminal Mischief.” 45-6-101. Criminal mischief. Montana Legislative Services, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/45/6/45-6-101.htm>
“Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine.” Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 24 May 2014. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0800-0899/0806/Sections/0806.13.html>
“New York Laws.” Article 145 NYS Penal Law. YPD Crime, 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article145.htm>