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Being accused of "mischief" doesn't sound like something that will carry very significant consequences. It can seem almost silly. However, the charge of criminal mischief, characterized by damaging or defacing property and including most acts of vandalism, can have serious consequences, and you could be charged with a much more significant crime than you may anticipate.
If you've been charged with criminal mischief, West Chester criminal mischief lawyer Michael J. Skinner can help you fight for favorable outcomes to your charges, including reduction, dismissal, and not guilty verdicts. The Skinner Law Firm represents clients charged with criminal mischief in Chester and Delaware Counties. Call (610) 436-1410 to schedule a free consultation to go over your charges.
Criminal mischief encompasses any intentional damage to property not owned by the person doing the damage. This includes damages that can be washed off — the law, Title 18, Section 3304 in Philadelphia Statutes, specifically makes graffiti, both with a spray paint can and a marker, and shooting property with a paintball gun. It includes both private property and public property, meaning government-owned buildings, fences, playground equipment and street signs.
The charge could also apply to acts some people may do out of anger, like key a car, throw a rock through a window or kick over a trash can or potted plant.
The criminal mischief charge also covers damages that are done intentionally or recklessly to any property by starting a fire that is not covered under the arson statute, any intentional or reckless tampering with any property that endangers a person or property, or any reckless or intentional activity that causes someone pecuniary loss.
Generally, the punishment for criminal mischief charges depends on the extent of property damaged. If the value of the damage was $500 or less and a spray-paint can or marker was not used, it is a summary offense, similar to a traffic ticket. The maximum jail time is 90 days, and the maximum fine is $300. If the damage is more than $500, or a spray paint can or marker is used and the damage is more than $150, it is a misdemeanor of the third degree, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. If the damage is more than $1,000, the charge is upgraded to a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable with up to two years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
If the damage is worth more than $5,000, or if the alleged mischief caused a substantial break in water, gas, power, communication or transportation services, the charge moves up to a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine up to $15,000. This could include any kind of prank that breaks a water line, cuts power cords or stops traffic.
The prosecutor must prove every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, which means they must prove their version of events happened the way they say it happened, and that, barring some completely improbable event, it definitely happened. Every element, in the case of criminal mischief, means proving that the deed happened, that it was done intentionally or recklessly, and that the value of the damage is what they say it is.
Prosecutors could get carried away with some element, particularly value. They may attempt to bring felony charges for property of questionable value. Your property crime defense lawyer can negotiate with lawyers to try to get the charges reduced.
If you've been charged with criminal mischief, regardless of how severe the punishment, you can fight the charges. Having a West Chester criminal mischief lawyer on your side, like Michael J. Skinner, can make all the difference between freedom and felony conviction. Call the Skinner Law Firm today at (610) 436-1410 to set up a free consultation.