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What Is Criminal Mischief?

What Is Criminal Mischief?

Vandalism or Criminal Mischief Charges in New Jersey

In New Jersey, criminal mischief is basically the crime of vandalism, which involves illegally damaging another person’s property. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3, criminal mischief is legally defined as purposely, knowingly, and/or recklessly:

  • damaging someone else’s physical property with the use of fire, explosives, or other dangerous means, or
  • tampering with someone else’s physical property so as to jeopardize the property or property owner, including destroying a rental property in retaliation for an eviction.

Juveniles often commit criminal mischief in connection with pranks or dares by engaging in:

  • Spraying graffiti (i.e. any drawing, painting, marking, or inscription) on public or private property
  • Breaking the windows on a property or of a car
  • Covering a neighbor’s or rival’s yard with toilet paper
  • Keying someone’s car

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Mischief in NJ?

Criminal mischief offenses are punishable based on the value of the property damage. The breakdown for the offense levels is as follows.

  • Losses of $500 or less are charged and punished as disorderly persons offenses.
  • Losses of $500-$2,000 are charged and punished as fourth-degree offenses.
  • Losses of $2,000 or more charged and punished as third-degree offenses.

The type of property that is damaged can also impact how severe the charges are. Criminal mischief is a fourth-degree offense if:

  • The crime is committed at a research facility or causes research work to be lost or disrupted.
  • The crime is committed at an airport, landing strip, landing field, helistop, or another aviation facility. However, the offense becomes a third-degree offense if anyone is injured or a second-degree offense if the mischief causes a death.
  • The crime involves tampering with structures (poles, towers, etc.) or conveyances (pipes, wires, etc.) for utilities, such as water, gas, cable television, electricity, or telecommunications.

Criminal mischief is a third-degree offense if:

  • The offender tampered with a grave, crypt, mausoleum, or another site where human remains are kept.
  • The offender entered a site where human remains are kept with the intent to desecrate, steal or destroy the remains.
  • The offender caused an interruption or the impairment of public transportation, communication, and utility supply (i.e. water, oil, power, etc.) when they committed criminal mischief. However, in this case, if death was also caused, the offense is a crime of the second degree.

The penalties of a conviction are as follows (see N.J.S.A. § 2C:43-3).

  • A disorderly persons offense is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
  • A fourth-degree offense is punishable by up to 18 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • A third-degree offense is punishable by 3-5 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
  • A second-degree offense is punishable by 5-10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $150,000.

If a rental property is damaged in retaliation for eviction or the criminal mischief involves graffiti, the offender may be required to pay for the damages and/or destruction (in addition to their fines). It is also important to note that, in cases where a person is injured or dies, offenders may also face civil penalties (if a personal injury or wrongful death suit is mounted).

Possible Defenses Against Criminal Mischief Charges

Each case is unique, which is why you should work with an attorney to develop an individualized defense strategy. Potential defenses against vandalism charges include:

  • Arguing that the witnesses are unreliable or that any photo or video footage fails to adequately identify you (i.e. grainy or low-quality footage)
  • Challenging claims made that the alleged crime caused an injury or death
  • Challenging the value of the property (especially in third or fourth-degree cases)
  • Establishing that you could not have committed the crime as you have an alibi
  • Proving that the damage was caused unintentionally
  • Showing that you owned the property that was damaged

Contact Our Juvenile Defense Attorneys

At Brickfield & Donahue, our attorneys have decades of legal experience, and we are highly qualified to help our clients, including juveniles, mount a solid defense strategy against criminal mischief (or vandalism/graffiti) charges. We also have a unique understanding of how the prosecution thinks, because our attorneys served as prosecutors for years. Our firm handled hundreds of criminal defense cases, including numerous juvenile cases

It is important to note that parents should not forgo obtaining reliable legal representation for their children if they’ve been arrested. Even though the juvenile system aims to rehabilitate minors more than punish them, juvenile criminal convictions can have a lasting impact on your child’s life (i.e. affecting college applications, later convictions, etc.). Also, in New Jersey, minors aged 14-18 can be tried as adults if a serious criminal offense (i.e. homicide, aggravated arson, etc.) was allegedly committed.

To schedule a free consultation, complete this online form or call (201) 574-7919 today. Our peers and clients alike recognize that we are aggressive legal advocates dedicated to helping our clients.

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