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What Is Criminal Mischief?
Types, Degrees, Penalties & Defenses

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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Since people have had tangible property of their own, criminal mischief has been an ever-present issue. Damaging another person's belongings without permission is considered a form of criminal mischief - no matter the time or place.

Nonetheless, based on my long professional experience as a criminal defense lawyer, it's rarely so straightforward. It can be hard to decide if someone is guilty and whether the action was an accident or carried out intentionally.

Whether you have been accused of criminal mischief or are merely looking for insight into its definition, this article is here to help.

Quick Summary

  • It is impossible to commit criminal mischief unintentionally.
  • In the face of criminal wrongdoing, compensation is provided to restore damaged property.
  • The gravity of the punishment for this act is based on the damaged property.

What Is Criminal Mischief?

A criminal preparing for a crimeCriminal mischief, or malicious misconduct as it is sometimes called, usually pertains to any deliberate destruction of another person's possessions without permission.

Nevertheless, each state has its specific definition of what constitutes criminal mischief, so you should be aware of the distinctions between them [1].

Often, people are familiar with the term vandalism to refer to criminal mischief. It can range from simply spray-painting graffiti on a building wall to breaking glass windows, and in some cases, may even involve trespassing.

The severity of the damage may differ, yet regardless of its magnitude, it remains a crime.

Examples of Criminal Mischief Cases

Graffiti is an unfortunately prevalent form of vandalism, ranging from spray painting entire buildings to scratching words or artwork into car windows.

In certain states, trespassing is also categorized as one of the common criminal mischief examples. Suppose someone is caught committing a crime like burglary. In that case, they could be charged with criminal mischief in addition to damaging any public or personal property present during their actions.

Related Article: Robbery vs Burglary

Characteristics of Criminal Mischief

A criminal sneakily stealing money

For the accused to be found guilty of criminal mischief, the prosecutor must demonstrate several necessary components beyond a reasonable doubt.

Specifically, they must establish the following:

  • The prosecutor must establish beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant deliberately caused harm to someone else's tangible property. 
  • A valid criminal mischief case would not be warranted if the defendant had been granted consent by the owner to modify or destroy a specific tangible property.
  • The motivation behind this act was not to create destruction, rob, or steal. Proving one of these crimes in court will require different evidence and supporting documentation.

Types of Criminal Mischief

To secure a conviction against an individual, the prosecution must establish beyond any doubt that they have indeed committed criminal mischief, whether in the form of graffiti, vandalism, sabotage, defacement, or breakage.

There are two types of criminal mischief that one should be aware of, misdemeanor criminal mischief and felony criminal mischief. 

Many states differentiate between different degrees of criminal mischief based on either the amount of damage done or whether specific property or specific elements are involved.
- Mark Theoharis, Attorney

Criminal Mischief Degrees

A close up shot of a criminal in handcuffsCriminal mischief can range from a Class C misdemeanor to the most serious, which is a first-degree felony. Many states further separate criminal misuse into four degrees of severity.

When facing this kind of charge, it's essential to understand how the offense may be charged; penalties for each degree differ significantly and can have lasting legal consequences if convicted.

Depending on the quantity of destruction and, in some cases, what was ruined, criminal charges can vary greatly.

Here are the details:

  • When the cost of harm inflicted is lower than two hundred dollars, criminal mischief falls under misdemeanor regulations.
  • Should the cost of damages be between $200 and $1,000, it will constitute a misdemeanor of the first degree.
  • Any property damage over $1,000 is considered to be a felony of the third degree.

The court might impose harsher penalties and a more serious charge if the damaged property was not private. When it comes to criminal mischief, the tools used for destruction can often be just as important as the act itself.

Utilizing bombs and explosives, guns, or fire to destroy another person's tangible property is typically considered first-degree criminal mischief in most states. It, therefore, comes with much harsher penalties than simple misdemeanors. 

The intensity of the punishment for this offense depends on whether it was a singular or recurring incident and if this is the defendant's first such infraction.

Criminal Mischief Penalties

A criminal in jailThe exact penalty for any criminal offense is contingent upon several variables, including the level of crime committed, state jurisdiction in which it occurred, the destruction caused by the action, whether or not there are prior offenses on record, and relevant statutes [2].

Generally, misdemeanors of criminal mischief will likely lead to fines of up to $1,000 or jail time for up to one year. Grave offenses classified as felonies, however, have much more severe repercussions, such as years in prison or hefty financial penalties.

It's essential to recognize that these are just general rules, and certain cases can differ significantly.

Nevertheless, some common punishments include:

  • Fines
  • Probation or Community Service
  • Incarceration
  • Paying Restitution to the Victims

When criminal mischief occurs, compensation attempts to compensate for any harm inflicted on someone's residence or possessions. It must be noted that restitution stands apart from other charges and fines, which may also have to be paid by the defendant in accordance with prosecution requirements.

Related Articles:

Proving Criminal Mischief Charges

To secure a conviction for criminal or malicious mischief, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant willfully or recklessly damaged another's tangible property without permission.

They must also prove the following:

  • Intentional or Reckless Act
  • Damage To a Person's Property
  • Without Consent

Defenses to Criminal Mischief

An attorney looking at defenses for criminal mischief

Various strategies may be available to mount a successful defense to fight the criminal mischief conviction when accused of criminal mischief.

These potential defenses to criminal mischief include:

  • The defendant had explicit authorization from the owner to cause harm to the property.
  • The defendant was wrongfully accused.
  • The property damage was done unintentionally.
  • The defendant justified the destruction of the property.


Does Criminal Mischief Include Graffiti?

Yes, criminal mischief includes graffiti. Of the many malicious mischief crimes, using graffiti is one of the most commonly pursued by prosecutors.

What Type of Crime Is Considered Mischief?

The type of crime that is considered mischief depends on the severity of the incident. Mischief can range from a harmless Class C misdemeanor to more serious first-degree felonies.

What Does It Mean to Be Charged With Mischief?

To be charged with mischief means you are accused of willfully and intentionally damaging another person's property without their consent.

Get a Free Case Review with Our Lawyers

Contact a defense attorney in Schmidt & Clark, LLP for a free consultation session if you are charged with mischief. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review your case and determine the best course of action.

Our experience makes us highly qualified to give you legal advice when dealing with criminal mischief charges.

Having a knowledgeable lawyer on your side could make the difference between potentially avoiding or mitigating serious consequences or having them fall into place due to a lack of experienced counsel. For that reason, consult our team at Schmidt & Clark today!