Criminal mischief often applies when tangible property is damaged. In New Jersey, it is typically considered a disorderly persons offense, unless the property that is damaged is valued at over $500 or certain types of property are damaged.
A person commits criminal mischief if he or she purposely or knowingly damages tangible property of another or recklessly or negligently damages property of another by using fire, explosives or other dangerous means. It is also known as vandalism.
The crime may be classified from a disorderly persons violation to a crime of the third or fourth degree. Whether you are charged with any of the lesser offenses depends upon the value of the property damaged and the specifics of the property damaged along with its location.
Examples of Criminal Mischief
- Destroying telephone lines
- Kicking in a door
- Breaking windows
- Causing damage to a municipal bus
- Damaging rental property in retaliation against a landlord
- Digging a grave with the purpose of desecrating it or human remains
- Damaging a crypt
- Disrupting a research facility by tossing paint on it or releasing lab animals
Disorderly Persons Offense
Defendants will be charged with a disorderly person’s offense if the property damaged is less than $500. In New Jersey, a disorderly person’s offense can carry up to six months in jail.
For disorderly persons offenses only, prosecution must be initiated within one year of when the offense was committed.
Criminal Mischief - Crime of the Fourth Degree
Criminal mischief is elevated to a fourth degree crime, if the property damaged is valued at between $500 and $2,000.
It also fits into this category if the crime involves damaging or tampering with air traffic devices such as signs, signals or lights at any airport, aviation facility or landing field, which serve as safety devices. If the damage to the facility causes bodily injury, the crime is elevated to a third degree. If the actor recklessly causes a death in the course of damaging or tampering these devices, the crime is elevated to a second degree offense.
Crimes of the fourth degree carry maximum sentences of up to 18 months in prison. Third degree crimes carry a penalty of 3 to 5 years imprisonment. Second degree crimes carry a penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison.
Crime of the Third Degree
Damaging property or causing a loss of more than $2,000 will enhance the offense to a crime of the third degree.
This degree of criminal mischief may also apply if the accused commits any of the following:
- Causes a substantial interruption or impairment of a public utility, communication system or of public transportation, supply of water, oil, gas or power, or other public service.
- Damages, defaces or causes the loss of property or disruption of service at a research facility.
- Persons who do damage to graves, crypts or mausoleum with the intent to rob, steal or destroy it or the human remains within them.
Crimes of the third degree subject offenders to a prison sentence of 3 to 5 years.
What To Do If You Are Arrested
Your first obligation is to defend yourself by not volunteering any information about the offense to law enforcement or to anyone else, including other inmates if you are detained in a facility after your arrest.
Do not talk to anyone on a phone or anywhere else about the facts of the case or about who may have been involved.
If law enforcement or security personnel ask you for a statement, or if they promise lenient treatment if you confess or give them information, immediately state that you do not wish to say anything and would like to speak to a defense attorney.
Strategies for Defense
For more serious criminal mischief offenses, the services of a criminal defense attorney may be necessary to effectively protect your legal rights.
Any criminal offense conviction depends upon the state or prosecution proving all elements of the offense. For instance, the state will have to prove the value of the property damaged for an offender to be convicted of a crime of the second, third or fourth degree.
If the act involved damage or impairment of a public utility, the damage must be shown to have substantially interrupted its operation in supplying electricity, water, power or transportation.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can investigate the facts of your case and determine if the police followed standard procedure in its investigation and properly preserved all evidence.
Any mitigating or exculpatory evidence, or evidence which tends to show your innocence, must be turned over to your attorney. He or she will also interview any witnesses and determine their veracity and credibility.
A criminal conviction can have lifelong implications for the offender that can adversely affect your job opportunities, credit, housing and immigration status if you are not a citizen.
Do not hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately if you have been arrested or charged with criminal mischief.